I have had the unusual career path of designing hospitals both before and after a six-year stint leading an entertainment design studio. During those six years, I led the design of an aquarium, theme parks, museum exhibits and movie theaters. My prior healthcare experience actually came in handy here…. for example, a sea otter tank, like certain isolation rooms, requires the same kind of HEPA filtration to eliminate harmful bacteria in the air.

Making the change back into healthcare was easier than you'd think. A lot of things are exactly the same—good design for people, thinking of the guests' experience, high quality communication and management of projects, and coordinating a large number of specialty design disciplines. What surprised me, as I compare my experiences, is just how much similarity there is.

In the entertainment/attractions industry, predicted revenue is based on how many people they can draw. Consultants are hired to analyze the competition, predict the number of visitors per year, determine how much ticket and ancillary (food, beverage, retail) revenue can be generated, and estimate operating costs and profit. Then, once open, these facilities have to constantly freshen themselves in order to give people a reason to come back. They need to avoid the "been there, done that" syndrome by constantly upping their game and rising above the competition. Their architects must come up with solutions that provide a great experience and achieve visitor throughput. It must be a uniquely attractive place which appeals emotionally to customers. For some, a powerful combination of design, culture and content make for huge successes—think of Disneyland, Tivoli Gardens, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Healthcare institutions also do market studies to predict demand, analyze their target clientele, decide which service lines to emphasize, and create a business plan, including design of their facilities and equipment, to achieve their goals. Providing great care is the price of entry, but they must do much more. To deliver the best care to their patients they must attract the highest quality of doctors and staff, while providing the latest equipment in the best facilities. All of this will attract more patients. Like world-caliber attractions, top quality health institutions have a strong combination of talent, equipment and place, bound together by an emotional quality that makes them uniquely attractive and by which they can deliver superior results.

Our basic job as healthcare architects is to design spaces in which our clients can provide top quality care. Yes, we must be aware of the current thinking in clinical space design, codes, benchmarking data, operations, equipment, etc. But I believe the best healthcare architects also get to really know our clients’ culture, understand their business and where they want to take it, creatively engage them, and provide inspiring designs to help them make a uniquely attractive place, in which they and their staff can provide higher levels of healing.

Those six years spent as a ‘fish out of water’ may have given me a different perspective as a healthcare architect. But I’m glad to be back.

Kirk Rose, AIA, is Vice-President and Health Studio Leader of SmithGroup’s Los Angeles office. SmithGroup is a leading healthcare architecture and engineering firm with 10 offices across the U.S.