When the HEALTHCARE DESIGN 2008 Architectural Showcase jury gathered on an overcast May morning in a downtown Chicago hotel, the room was filled with optimism. In my own introduction to the judging process, I laid out our editorial goal as a “complete portrait of healthcare design and construction in 2008,” a “Sears catalog” of what was going on at this particular point in history. We were all excited at the prospect of seeing the best and brightest that the industry had to offer.
As the buzz died down and the jury got down to the review process, however, a different kind of vibe came over the room. By lunchtime, it was on everyone's lips: “Where is all the innovation?” In short, the jury was confused.
In a roundtable discussion held after the judging had been completed, we tried to root out some of the reasons why this year's projects had been so middle-of-the-road in terms of new design. “About 10 years ago, many elements of healthcare design would have gotten F's from us,” remarked one juror. “Now, the quality has improved, and we're seeing a lot more B's and C's—we're just not seeing a lot of A's. It all looks derivative of projects we saw a few years ago.”
A few theories were presented: “Maybe because we're pushing more healthcare work out these days, the quality of the work is suffering,” suggested one juror. Another commented, “I was frustrated in that I would see a project with, say, some very innovative planning techniques, but then the interiors would fall off, or the patient rooms. The integration side was not there; there was no consistency.” Other theories were also presented: Is budgeting an issue in this near-recession period? Have the innovations that the industry's thought leaders have been preaching about for the last few years finally become incorporated to the point where they have become old hat? Is the submission process itself simply becoming a marketing exercise rather than a forum to present the best work available?
Regardless, the jury still found a number of noteworthy projects—most significantly, our four Citation of Merit winners, as well as a handful of others—that rose to the top of the pile as standouts. Still, the challenge has been issued to the rest of the industry to step up its game, as well as to the HEALTHCARE DESIGN staff to tweak the submission process to more accurately reflect all the good things the industry has on offer. In any case, expect changes and improvements in 2009 and beyond.