"Plastics." That's the word Mr. McGuire tells young Benjamin Braddock in the 1967 film "The Graduate," insisting that there's a "great future in it ... think about it."

Today, “nanotechnology” is the new plastics. Along with mobile technology, it’s the future of healthcare—and both are going to change how and where healthcare is delivered.

In very simple terms, nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. It’s being tested as vehicles for drugs, packages for gene therapy, and weapons against cancer. Nanorobots may even one day take over traditional surgical procedures to clean up arterial plaque or repair damaged tissue.

I thought about all this after I recently toured University of Chicago Medicine's new Center for Care and Discovery (CCD), a 1.2 million square foot building designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects (RVA) and Cannon Design.

As we donned "bunny suits" and made our way around the surgery floor, peeking in ORs filled with massive, brand-new, state-of-the art equipment, I couldn't help but wonder what would become of this space—this building—in 30 to 40 years.

Because nanotechnology has the potential to make things like intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging machines, da Vinci robots, and the operating rooms that I saw in the CCD obsolete someday.

RVA and Cannon’s solution for flexibility was to design an 18-foot (5.5-meter) floor-to-floor height and large 31.5-by-31.5-foot (9.6-by-9.6-meter) structural square grid that allows for reconfiguring departments and upgrading equipment. The large 102,000-square-foot floorplate of the building makes this blueprint for the future possible.

To learn more, look for my feature article on the CCD in Healthcare Design’s July issue.

It’s hard to imagine how such a massive building will redefine itself to meet the changes in healthcare treatment and delivery that are being driven by technology. Who knows? Perhaps in the future, the CCD will be a research center instead of a hospital.