The unique Architecture for Health program at Texas A&M University: Past, present, and future
The guiding research and educational philosophy of Texas A&M University's Architecture for Health program, which was established in 1966, is for its students and faculty to undertake actual case-study projects with clients who have real needs, real sites, and real requirements—and who are willing to work closely with us in the College of Architecture. This method of research and hands-on teaching has been highly successful. Hundreds of graduates of this unique program are involved in healthcare architecture across the globe—as leaders of major firms, professors of architecture, planning directors of hospitals and other healthcare institutions, and in government agencies.
Project case-study approach. Over the years a great deal of experience has accrued as to the best learning method for students in the Architecture for Health program. We have found that a balance of theory (course-driven) and practice (project-driven) is needed, and therefore we provide not only classroom lectures, but also opportunities for students to gain real-life experience by working on project case studies.
In addition to participating in project case studies, the students learn by attending professional meetings related to healthcare architecture, and by being exposed to a steady stream of outside lecturers from all over the world, who regularly visit the College of Architecture to present their ideas and work. Additionally, the students visit and study notable hospital and healthcare facilities and meet with their staffs.
Importance of external relationships. To maintain a flow of information on current medical practices and interesting, challenging projects, we have had to develop, nurture, and maintain key relationships with regional, national, and international agencies, organizations, health facilities, and architectural firms. Professionals from these organizations regularly give lectures regarding their work and experiences, display their projects, sponsor joint studio efforts on actual projects, critique the students' work, and generously offer their technical expertise.
Since the inception of the Architecture for Health program, our students and faculty have undertaken more than 500 research and design projects on a national and international level. More than $3.5 million in research and design contracts has been generated by this unique program.
Projects have ranged from small, primary rural and urban health centers to Mobile Health Units to AIDS hospitals to a proposed children's hospital in North Korea to healthcare-outfitted river boats in developing countries (in Asia, Central America, and Africa) to the proposed 4.1-million-square-foot McGill University Health Centre in Montreal. They also have included Project Orbis, a “flying eye hospital” in a DC-10; the Asian Mercy, a hospital ship; Mobile and Transportable Health Units; new ERV/A (Emergency Response Vehicle/Ambulance) prototypes; women's and children's hospitals; cancer centers; heart centers; psychiatric facilities; mental health and mental retardation facilities; university teaching hospitals; research facilities; a land-mine museum and prevention and rehabilitation center for Siem Reap, Cambodia; independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing facilities for the elderly; and a wide range of other facilities too numerous to mention.
Students come from all over the world to enroll in our unique Architecture for Health program to obtain a master of architecture degree or a master of science or doctorate in research. The PhD and MS degree programs focus heavily on evidence-based design, which greatly influences their graduates' work. Our program is affiliated with HIAC (the Health Industry Advisory Council), which was established in 2002 by J. Thomas Regan, dean of Texas A&M's College of Architecture, and made up of Architecture for Health firms.
Students also can enroll in the Health Certificate program, which enables those from other related disciplines and departments, such as Landscape Architecture and Urban and Regional Planning, to undertake a major in this area. This certificate enhances their credentials and marketability after graduation.
One major project that was just completed (in early December, a few weeks before the Asian tsunami disaster) is the design of 17 different “SURGE” Hospitals—hospitals established for the purpose of responding to surges in numbers of patients during and after natural or man-made disasters that might render existing hospitals useless or inaccessible.
By the time this issue is in print, we also will be undertaking, along with Dallas-based HKS Architects (an advisory teaching firm since 1973), a major international hospital-expansion project. This project will be led by Ronald L. Skaggs, FAIA, chairman of HKS and adjunct professor of architecture at Texas A&M's College of Architecture.
We continue to undertake state-of-the-art projects—for example, designing Centers of Excellence such as the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston—and continue to attract students from around the world.
Texas A&M University has designated our program as a “signature program,” thus making recruitment of additional faculty a priority.
We are moving toward undertaking fewer but larger, more in-depth projects. These large, complex projects enable students to learn more and enable us to involve more students in them. We also plan to approach them differently. For example, we will now have not only “vertical studios” (with College of Architecture undergraduates and graduate students working together), but also “horizontal studios” (with students from the Architecture, Construction Science, Landscape Architecture, and Urban and Regional Planning departments working together in an interdisciplinary manner). This interdisciplinary approach improves both the process and the product, as well as preparing our students for leadership roles in practice.
We will continue to work with both U.S. and international clients on exciting case-study projects. We look forward to new challenges! HD
George J. Mann, AIA, is the Ronald L. Skaggs Endowed Professor of Health Facilities Design, College of Architecture, Texas A&M University; Founder and Chairman of RPD (the Resource Planning & Development Group); and President of GUPHA (the Global University Programs in Healthcare Architecture), which he founded with Dr. Yasushi Nagasawa of the University of Tokyo in 1999.
The purpose of this new department is to discuss emerging trends and relevant topics related to improving the field of healthcare architecture. Having devoted my entire 40-year career to research, practice, and education in this field, I would like to share some of my experiences and perspectives with its leaders. I am delighted to have this opportunity.
This first column describes the work we've done in our Architecture for Health program at Texas A&M University, as well as explaining the philosophy and some of the history behind the program and highlighting its present activities and what lies ahead.
Future topics for this column will include: “How ‘SURGE’ Hospitals Will Accommodate Surges in Numbers of Patients in Disasters”; “Why Architecture Firms Should Be More Like Schools of Architecture, and Why Schools Should Be More Like Firms”; and “Problems and Pitfalls of International Practice.”