How cross-collaboration strengthens healthcare design and education programs

September 19, 2018

Healthcare architects, educators, and researchers gather for one day with one goal in mind: to elevate healthcare design


By David Allison and Doug King

Stantec Chicago hosted the 11th Annual Architecture + Health Educators Summit where healthcare architects, educators, and researchers joined together to discuss the present and future happenings in the healthcare world. This one-day summit is part of the AIA Academy of Architecture for Health/ACHA Summer Leadership Conference (SLC), which consists of several pioneers in the concept of Evidenced-Based Design, the education of future healthcare architects, and the application of research to the design of healthcare facilities. These collaborations have been a huge success in the advancement of healthcare architecture and the overall education of our future healthcare practitioners.

David Allison, the founder and instigator of the Educators Summit, and Stantec’s Doug King share their insights into this platform for collaboration and importance it has on healthcare design today.


Stantec designed the Louisiana State University Medical Education and Innovation Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


Meet our experts:

  • David Allison: An alumni distinguished professor and director of Clemson’s graduate program in architecture and health.
  • Doug King: A technical director and principal in Stantec’s healthcare practice who has significant leadership roles on several of the largest healthcare projects ever built in the US, including the ACHA Legacy Award-winning Feinberg/Galter Pavilion.


Q: Why is having a formal meeting like the SLC and the Educators Summit important to the healthcare architecture industry?

David: A little over 10 years ago, I organized this Summit because there was a lack of communication among practicing healthcare architects and an ever-growing number of educators focused on healthcare architecture. The annual educator’s summit provides a forum to learn about and discuss current educational activities, work and plans at established and emerging educational programs in architecture and health, as well as what might be on the horizon in architectural education in this domain. It is intended to provide an opportunity for educators to share and discuss issues related to architecture and health education and engage in dialogue with representatives of the AIA/AAH, ACHA, and other industry partners engaged in educational initiatives.

Doug: This Summit is the only venue where educators, practitioners, and researchers gather in one place, for a day to discuss the future of education in the design of healthcare facilities. Getting us all in the same room allows us to compare what is being taught to what is being practiced to what is being researched. Through this Summit, I am now a studio advisor to the University of Kansas Institute for Health and Wellness Design Program where I adjunct teach and provide my expertise on student’s work about five times per term. In my opinion, this practitioner visibility to students is extremely important and helps create a stronger graduating class of architects.


Q: How have the programs at Clemson, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and others contributed to healthcare design?

Doug: Considering the Clemson and Texas A&M programs have been around for more than 50 years, they have trained many of the highly-skilled practitioners that are practicing healthcare architecture today. These programs, as well as Texas Tech and Kansas, are doing significant research that is helping shape the way we practice.

I have also had the opportunity to test four projects in the academic setting through my involvement with Kansas and several other universities. This led to successful project outcomes for us while providing the students with real-world experience, overall strengthening the profession with skilled healthcare designers.

David: One of the goals our educational programs try to do, on varying degrees, is give architecture students a fundamental background on the principles of healthcare design and the design of health supporting places, the history of healthcare architecture, and introduce them to policies and procedures that influence the design of healthcare environments. We also ensure our students understand research and the importance of it to the industry.

We believe all this knowledge, coupled with real-life projects, prepares our students with a well-rounded perspective of what it will be like when they’re practicing architecture.


The 2018 ACHA Summer Leadership Summit took a break from the agenda for a quick photo at the Stantec Chicago office.


Q: Why is Evidence-Based Design so important to the design of healthcare facilities?

David: It’s simple, the rigorous study and application of research helps us make better decisions in how we’re going to build healthcare environments. As an educator, we need to prepare our architecture students to understand the fundamental concepts of this process. That way, when they get out in the field, they have a stronger arsenal to make better decisions and solidify those decisions with the clients.

Doug: The driver for the Evidence-Based Design process was to lend credibility to healthcare architects and raise our visibility in the community and the market. Poor healthcare design could potentially lead to a lethal environment, which is where this concept comes into play. Everything we design should be based on research and evidence as to why it would be most successful, and in return this is advancing the mission of ACHA, “to transform healthcare through better built environments.”


Q: What do you foresee as the future of healthcare design research?

Doug: I see much more funding and support for research available now, so I can only imagine more and more quantitative and qualitative research will be conducted in the near future.

_q_tweetable:Everything we design should be based on research and evidence as to why it would be most successful._q_Quantitatively, I believe that practitioners and educators will begin to collaborate more on the development of best practices in the design of healthcare facilities. There will be more field-based research on what is the most efficient way to lay out a floor plan, equipment, and all the features in it.

Qualitatively, I foresee research focusing on the satisfaction of staff and patients within their healthcare facility. As a researcher myself, I also have a strong personal tie to research on the features that will be embedded in healthcare programs under the guidelines of population health management and whether they’re worth the return on investment for the client to implement. We predict this research may be a catalyst for determining which population health strategies get reimbursement by the government in the future.

David: We’re in the process of building a knowledge base, but I believe we need to replicate some of our past research initiatives to ensure we validate the results of original studies. I think this would make research more robust and even more effective when it comes to Evidence-Based Design.

As for new research, how we design environments to promote and sustain health will be an ever-increasing area of focus. How do you design buildings that can accommodate a future that is unknown? That is something we need to figure out. Also, it’s a tight labor market so I see research focusing more on staff retention and satisfaction. Along with the patient, the staff experience also is a critical factor that plays into the efficiency and effectiveness of a healthcare facility.


About the authors

David Allison, FAIA, FACHA, is an alumni distinguished professor and director of Clemson’s Graduate Program in Architecture + Health. He also holds an appointment as a Faculty Scholar in the Clemson University School of Health Research. His teaching, research, and scholarship involves the study of relationships between health, healthcare, and the built environment.

Doug King, AIA, NCARB, ACHA, is a leader in Stantec’s healthcare practice with extensive experience in healthcare design for institutions covering a broad range of delivery including the Veteran’s Administration and Northwestern Medicine—a top five academic medical center. Doug balances robust professional practice with research scholarship and academic involvement collaborating with healthcare design programs at multiple universities.


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