The “What’s Next” Of Healthcare Design
Last week I attended the live judging for Healthcare Design’s annual Design Showcase, a special section that appears in our September issue—what I tend to view as a yearbook of what’s been moving and shaking in healthcare design over the past 12 months.
Our jury, composed of professionals spanning from academia to architecture to ownership, sifted through PowerPoint presentations on conceptual, in-progress, and completed projects, not only weighing what should make the cut to be published but also to give a nod to those deserving of the program’s highest honor, the Award of Merit.
In the end, two projects rose to the top, with three others nabbing honorable mentions.
As a spectator to the event, only overhearing the back and forth and checks and balances that eventually got our teams to consensus, I couldn’t wait to hear right from the horse’s mouth on exactly what our panel had seen—what did a collective review of 100 projects tell this group of minds about where the industry is heading?
What I didn’t anticipate, though, is that it hadn’t told them a whole lot.
That’s not to say that this year’s crop of projects doesn’t deserve plenty of recognition. But when it comes to innovation—a true advancement of healthcare design—jurors thought the projects largely fell a bit flat.
After more than a decade of lobbying for design elements like access to nature, abundant daylighting, and clear wayfinding, we’re finally seeing these efforts become rather commonplace. And that’s the great irony, right? What used to be innovative has now become the baseline.
It’s something to be celebrated, quite frankly. Perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point where these types of projects have become the norm, at least on the new-build side.
But it also begs the question of what’s next. This coming wave of innovation may not be as visually obvious, as, say, floor-to-ceiling windows or graphic floor patterns.
It’s instead how the built environment is supporting care delivery initiatives, from telemedicine to better patient engagement. It’s the delivery methods used to construct a facility on time and on budget. It’s how project teams are answering client needs through creating operational efficiencies and buildings that will maintain value over time.
This type of progression is what our jurors found to be a bit intangible in the submissions. That’s not to say it isn’t happening—in fact, I’m certain it is.
So I can’t help but wonder why firms submitting projects to awards competitions aren’t calling out those types of solutions in a more obvious way. Is there a perception that the baseline, no matter how common it’s become, still holds more value?
It may be time to collectively recognize what we know is good design right alongside all the strides that are being made to advance the industry forward. Don’t underestimate what innovations are being brought to the table. And when the opportunity arises, be sure to share (even brag a little) about what you’re doing on your projects.