On December 2, 2005, junior and senior Texas A&M University Architecture students unveiled 14 different design concepts for a 269,000-square-foot medical building emphasizing sustainability and patient access. The presentations took place at the Dallas headquarters of HKS, Inc., an internationally active architectural and engineering firm specializing in health facilities planning and design.

The subject property is a 40-acre site in Mansfield, Texas (centrally located south of Dallas and Fort Worth), acquired by Texas Health Resources (THR) for future potential development. THR is one of the largest faith-based, nonprofit healthcare delivery systems in the United States. The system serves more than 6.2 million people living in 29 counties in North Central Texas from a platform including 13 hospitals with 2,400 beds, staffed by more than 17,000 employees and 3,200 affiliated physicians. THR made the site available to the students for the purposes of this study, and Brian Holmes, PE, THR's Senior Vice-President for Facilities and Development, served as a project adviser.

Twenty-nine students working in two-person teams collaborated on the project with representatives from THR, with assistance from HKS architects. HKS provided a prototypical program for the type of satellite facility being built by many urban healthcare systems. The students are enrolled in an Architecture for Health studio directed by George J. Mann, AIA, the Ronald L. Skaggs Endowed Professor of Health Facilities Design at Texas A&M's College of Architecture. HKS Executive Vice-President and Healthcare Group Director, Craig Beale, FAIA, FACHA, served as senior project adviser.

Other professionals advising and working with students on the Mansfield project included Ronald L. Skaggs, FAIA, FACHA, HKS Chairman and Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Texas A&M University; Joseph G. Sprague, FAIA, FACHA, Director of Health Facilities at HKS; Jeffrey C. Stouffer, AIA, principal and Design Director at HKS; and Joseph J. McGraw, Architecture Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University and former Director of Planning for Kuwait University's Health Sciences Center.

“The design effort creates a win-win for all involved,” states Beale. “It provides accessible, convenient healthcare services in an environmentally conscious way, taking into account the creative thinking of the next generation of design talent. We hope that this exciting and meaningful project will entice young architects to enter the specialty healthcare architectural practice.”

For the semester-long project, the students focused on sustainable, resource-friendly design solutions emphasizing energy conservation, renewable resources, and modern evidence-based design concepts that can facilitate state-of-the-art medical practices, as well as patient well-being and recovery. The students also incorporated solutions for “surge” capacity, or the ability to respond to extreme disasters that might overwhelm the region's existing healthcare infrastructure.
Design concepts by Texas A&M University Architecture student teams Graca/Garrick (A), Lamb/Romo (B), and Mullins/deSalvo/Corey (C).

“The project offers students a unique hands-on and very real opportunity to work in tandem with visionary clients and top-drawer design professionals,” Mann says. “A real-world project means so much more to the students than a routine, hypothetical homework assignment. By being exposed to the process of working with a client, the students learn the art of listening and being responsive, and as a result of working with the highly accomplished architects and engineers at HKS, the students are extremely motivated and their learning experience is incredibly enhanced.”

Sprague says, “The close, synergistic relationship between practice and teaching has reinvented the way in which Architecture is being taught and serves as a cutting-edge model.”

HKS invited the Texas A&M students to explore alternative designs for the project. As an advisory teaching firm since 1973, HKS has worked closely with the university's Architecture studios on a variety of projects. “Since the inception of Texas A&M's Architecture for Health program in 1966,” Mann says, “A&M design studios have tackled more than 500 health-related design projects for a variety of clients and organizations at locations around the world.

“The program focuses on case study approaches to health facility design, allowing students to work on real projects, with actual clients and budgets,” Mann continues. “Through its interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, the program encourages students to work with doctors and allied health professionals, as well as with experts in all of the built-environment professions.”

The students' design explorations could have a significant influence on the architects' ultimate designs. Their solutions are incredibly diverse, and each one addresses issues of importance to modern healthcare facilities, such as energy conservation, natural lighting, and indoor and outdoor gardens. One design, for instance, incorporates wind turbines that can generate and store electrical power. Several designs include rooftop gardens that can reduce the effect of solar heating on the building while providing serene green space that can be viewed and accessed by patients, visitors, and staff. The designs also pay strict attention to the building's orientation to maximize natural lighting throughout the facility.

“With our design we are hoping to change the idea of a hospital from a remote institution to a wellness center integrated into the community environment,” says Courtney Brinegar, a Texas A&M student who worked for HKS last summer and participated in one of the project teams.

“The students have been totally committed to the design of a humane, community-based health facility that will respond to the health needs of citizens,” says McGraw. “Consulting this singular group of dedicated and enthusiastic design students has been a most inspiring and rewarding experience, and all of us associated with the support of this project are certain that the future of health facilities design is in good hands.” HD

Brian McFarlane, AIA, is Vice-President/Project Director of Health Facilities at HKS, Inc., an international design firm. He can be reached at 214.969.5599. Since its founding in 1939, HKS, Inc., has completed construction projects totaling more than $36 billion in more than 400 cities located in 45 states and 21 foreign countries.