The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) recognizes more than 150 accredited Interior Design graduate and undergraduate programs in the United States. Accredited architecture programs within the U.S. number more than 120 through the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Additionally, there are multitudes of programs in engineering, healthcare administration, sustainable design, and environmental psychology throughout our nation, all of which contribute to and influence the field of healthcare interior design.

Accredited Architecture and Interior Design programs in the continental United States by location
Courtesy of Jamie C. Huffcut

Accredited Architecture and Interior Design programs in the continental United States by location

Enrollment and employment for this quantity of programs means thousands of individuals are shaping the future of our profession in a multitude of ways. The question this brings to mind is: How does the healthcare design industry engage the academic community in the design process? Followed closely by: What do these institutions offer?

Data collected by Texas A&M University from preoccupancy evaluation at Arlington Free Clinic
Courtesy of Jamie C. Huffcut

Data collected by Texas A&M University from preoccupancy evaluation at Arlington Free Clinic

The growth of research and evidence-based design suggests the design professions engagement with academia has prospered significantly, but the industry has yet to exhaust the potential of collaboration with academia.

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One story of integration emerged from the interior fit-out for Arlington Free Clinic (AFC) in Arlington, Virginia, where Perkins+Will's Washington, D.C., healthcare team collaborated with educators early on. AFC, the county's only provider of free healthcare for low-income uninsured adults, was eager to participate with local colleges and universities. Educators were approached during the schematic design phase and remained involved months after construction was complete. Two different campuses were invited to participate: George Mason University (GMU) and Texas A&M University (A&M). Together, AFC, the design team, and scholars determined the Clinic would best benefit by students and professors conducting occupancy surveys and evaluations.

While both groups worked simultaneously, they examined different variables. Dr. Chad Morris' students from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at GMU conducted the preliminary data gathering concerning patient well-being within the space. The final analysis was conducted by Dr. Morris and a Roanoke College Department of Sociology student. The class from A&M, led by Professor and Director of the Center for Health Systems & Design Mardelle M. Shepley, generated a study to confirm or contest whether the new environment met the objectives of end-user comfort and function.

The team believed the partnerships would lead to enrichment of the process and opportunities for sharing. AFC's Executive Director, Nancy Pallesen, acknowledges the collaborative efforts: “We knew that healthcare evidence-based design research had focused on hospital settings. We recognize that our clinic had the unique opportunity to be a part of the evolving body of healthcare design knowledge.” Without an integrated research team, the opportunity to contribute to the field would have been lost.

The case study of collaboration at the AFC is just one example of how professionals can tap into the resources contained within the academic community. The partnerships at AFC centered on personalized evaluations, however, institutions are developing benchmarking evaluations for the built environment that can be applied to diverse project types.

The University of California Berkeley Center for the Built Environment (CBE) has developed an innovative Web-based survey to measure occupant satisfaction within the interior environment, reducing the time of cost associated with traditional paper-based evaluations (Zagreus et al. Listening to the Occupants: A Web-based Indoor Environmental Quality Survey. Indoor Air 2004; 14 (Suppl. 8): pp. 65-74. December 2004.). The ten-minute survey asks building occupants about their satisfaction with core comfort parameters such as lighting, acoustics, temperature, and indoor air quality, and more recently the CBE has adapted the traditional office survey for the healthcare environment. To date, more than 50,000 individual responses have been collected from building occupants. Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Doctoral Candidate, Whitney Austin Gray, served as a visiting fellow at CBE developing optional survey modules that measure worker health, safety, stress, quality of patient care, productivity, absenteeism, and job satisfaction. “CBE's tool is the only one of its kind that offers options for a designer to measure the impact of the building on occupants' health, stress, and productivity using test and validated scales. For designers, going the extra step to survey occupants can translate into savings. Results can help to improve building performance, inform future design decisions, and attract clients interested in the health and well-being of their employees,” says Ms. Gray.

From the University of California Berkeley's College of Environmental Design to Texas A&M University's Center for Health Systems & Design to Georgia Institute of Technology's Evidence-Based Design specialty in the School of Architecture, academia is providing funds and coaching students in the art of understanding the built environment from a design background. In addition, healthcare policy and administration programs are educating on the built environment of the healthcare setting.

Georgetown University's Department of Health Systems Administration at the School of Nursing and Health Studies in Washington, D.C., has partnered with Perkins+Will for two years organizing forums on the built environment to benefit healthcare administrators, academics, and design professionals. In addition, adjunct professor at Georgetown University, Carrie R. Rich, MS, EDAC, teaches a one-of-a-kind course on creating sustainable hospitals. The unique quality of the course is that it translates the design profession's language of the built environment into the healthcare administrator's language of the bottom line and patient safety. Perhaps most importantly, the course marries the built environment with healthcare operations, engaging students in analyzing topics that include employee engagement and culture change, community partnership, policy implications, and risk and supply chain management.

Ms. Rich's inspiration for the course? “The work of design professionals.” The inspiring designers and architects are often guest lecturers. An additional course requirement is visiting local health systems to study design's impact on operational issues. Although Ms. Rich acknowledges design thinking is not typical to a healthcare administrator's education, she finds her students appreciate the exposure. Her student's see the experience of studying the healthcare built environment as a chance to make a difference in their future facilities. Ms. Rich sees this similarity between her students and the designers that inspire her “…they, too, strive to make a difference.” The Georgetown University coursework in the School of Nursing and Health Studies suggests the design industry is not limited in partnerships with design-based degrees and educators. Within the sphere of academia, multiple venues for reaching out exist if designers are willing.

Design educators also have a role in seeking collaboration. The Interior Design Educators Council's (IDEC) mission statement places open communication at the forefront by stating their goal of “strengthening of lines of communication among educators, practitioners, educational institutions.”

Among the impressive list of strategic advancements of Interior Design education, scholarship, publicity, and membership (which can be found at www.idec.org), IDEC calls out for the advancement of Interior Design education by encouraging practicing professionals to enter into academia; however, this strategic goals does not directly speak to scholars reaching out to the industry. Are academics and scholars ready to seek professional alliances for services greater than studio critiques and offer their student's energy to benefit the practice?

Students at the Community College of Baltimore County's (CCBC) Interior Design Program are required, like most curriculums, to work as an intern under a licensed designer prior to obtaining their degree. However, CCBC's Interior Design Program Coordinator, Moira Gannon Denson, ASID, IDEC, LEED AP, is working towards pursuing positions for her students that surpass intern level. Ms. Denson sees participation in charettes and team meetings as crucial to providing her students with real-world experience. And the students aren't the only ones to benefit. CCBC's Interior Design students typically come from a nondesign background such as healthcare or finance and have a pertinent experience and knowledge to offer a design team. One additional piece Ms. Denson believes her students offer design professionals: questions. “Every design process needs questions to challenge (and reaffirm) its goals,” she states.

Students and educators at the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University have spent 13 years developing Cornell University's Intypes (Interior Archetypes) Research and Teaching Project. The Intype program creates a typology of contemporary interior design practices that are derived from reiterative historical designs that span time and style and cross cultural boundaries (www.intypes.cornell.edu). Designers search Intypes by design element or practice type ranging from residential to spa to museum. Each design characteristic defined as an Intype is supported by research and visual accounts (both historical and/or current) and available to design professionals. Jan Jennings, professor at Cornell University, explains, “Design Communication is based largely on memorable and effective storytelling. The Intypes project allows designers to access intuitive naming of archetypical design practices, enabling designers to communicate design ideas to clients in an approachable and resonant language.” Ms. Jennings suggests the incorporation of studied and identified Intypes into real-world projects allows the “design solution to be innovative, engaging, and grounded in best practices.”

Personal experience at the AFC and searching academe from California to upstate New York exposed numerous avenues for integration beyond standard practices of professionals sitting for student critiques and institutions placing interns. Within the scholarly community, interest in the built environment has far surpassed design education. Healthcare administration educational fields have begun to embrace study of the built environment and design professionals seek educational institution's research skills to further design outcomes. Furthermore, the language of our profession is improving through the energy, passion, and questioning of students who will soon be the future of the design profession. Missing out on the wealth of knowledge and range of partnership opportunities may leave some professionals in the dark ages of design. While those that seek these integrated relationships with academia will prove to have turned down an advantageous avenue of distinction and innovation. HD

Jamie C. Huffcut, ASID, EDAC, LEED AP, is a project designer at Perkins+Will in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at

jamie.huffcut@perkinswill.com. Healthcare Design 2010 August;10(8):22-26