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The College of Environmental Design

Design Infusion

Architecture Students Think Outside the Box to Design an Innovative Cabin for State Parks

By Samantha Gonzaga

College of Environmental Design - The Healthcare Architecture Initiative pushes students to take a holistic approach to design.

Dramatic healthcare coverage changes, technological advances in medicine and longer lifespans continue to alter the landscape of the healthcare industry – and with those shifts come patient-focused designs for facilities. 

At least, that’s how alumnus Sanford Smith (’79, architecture) envisions the pragmatic evolution of healthcare architecture, where efficiency and quality care need not be mutually exclusive. He’s the visionary force behind the College of Environmental Design’s Healthcare Architecture Initiative. 

“All the signs are pointing to the fact that changes are coming and coming fast,” says Smith, senior vice president of real estate, facilities and construction at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian. “In the delivery of healthcare, we have to shift from fee-for-services to fee-for-value. Do I get quality healthcare for every dollar spent?” 

It’s a perspective that reflects a healthcare architecture movement that is mindful of how aesthetically soothing environments can have a positive impact on the healing process as much as innovative treatments. 

Take for example the renovation of Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, a 613,000-square-foot facility that looks more like a resort. There’s also Hoag itself, the only non-academic medical center of nine facilities
in the state that made Becker’s Hospital Review’s 2015
“100 Great Hospitals in America.” Regularly recognized for patient satisfaction, the Hoag blends beauty and state-of- the-art facilities. 

The seeds of ENV’s Healthcare Architecture Initiative were sowed after a 2011 ceremony honoring Smith as the college’s Distinguished Alumnus. A missed competition deadline for a design contest sponsored by Kaiser Permanente led to a casual conversation with fellow distinguished alumnus Bob Kain, then-principal at HMC Architects, and then-architecture department chair Judith Sheine. The trio discussed career prospects for architects educated in designing for the healthcare industry. Four years later, those discussions blossomed into a program that’s the first of its kind on the West Coast. 

“Sanford is in a perfect position, industry-wise,” says Hofu Wu, an architecture professor who leads the healthcare planning and design seminars and studios. “Without him, the program would not have flourished.” 

Smith, along with like-minded alumni and colleagues, formed an advisory board composed of the region’s top healthcare professionals to assess curriculum, critique student projects, and provide the financial stewardship
for instructional materials, special lecturers, field trips and student travel expenses. To date, Smith has personally contributed more than $40,000. He and Wu have their sights set on expanding the program from its current offering as a specialty concentration into a full-fledged degree. 

So far, nearly 100 students have completed the program, and these young professionals are prepared to anticipate and address consumer preferences through holistic approaches in design, reduction of building and repair costs through sustainable practices, and re-adaptive reuse and repurposing. Past studio projects include proposed conversions for behavioral health hospitals, which are traditionally sparse in numbers and beds; birth centers and ambulatory surgery rooms; and assisted-living communities for seniors. 

The healthcare industry pulls in nearly $3 trillion a year, with spending taking up about 18 percent of the national gross domestic product, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure isn’t expected to fluctuate much as healthcare, along with education, tend to stay constant even through economic downturns. In addition, many
new opportunities are coming as a result of advances in medicine and changes in the population. 

“Now we see that a very sustainable design helps with the healing process,” Wu says. “There are a lot of opportunities for students to push their creativity.”

Patterns are also shifting when it comes to patient flow and the use of the facilities, Wu says. By 2030, up to 30 percent of hospital beds will be unoccupied because of faster medical procedures and recovery times. An aging Baby Boomer population will require specialized care, and preventive care for the following generations. 

“It’s such a ripe time to bring in a generation of new thinkers,” Smith says. “More than anything, there’s an important role for designers to play in advocating public policies.”