In a review of any body of work, there’s an obvious value to the patterns and themes that start to emerge and paint a picture of whatever it is that’s being studied.

For this year’s Healthcare Design Showcase, when our multidisciplinary panel of 25 jurors assessed 100 submissions, what was revealed by connecting the dots between each project was a new standard for the design of healthcare environments that’s been set. (For more on this, see "Setting A New Standard For Healthcare Design.")

But there’s another side to this theory, and that’s the story that can be told from what wasn’t seen in this year’s projects.

When I asked our panel of jurors what was missing for them when reviewing a year of healthcare design, they had plenty to say. For some, they reacted to what was lacking in the work itself, while others responded to the Showcase submission process and how some participants weren’t hitting the mark. But what remained a constant across responses was an appetite for research and measurable results that just wasn’t satisfied.

“There continues to be a bit of a gap between aspirations and measurable outcomes in healthcare design,” noted juror Kim Ritter, an associate at GBJ Architecture PC.

Many projects outlined their goals (to improve the patient experience or reduce readmissions, for example), but few were able to present results that illustrated that the design interventions used to achieve those goals were actually successful.

Sure, there were plenty of mentions of evidence-based design and promises of post-occupancy evaluations, but many projects lacked details on how or when this research might be conducted.

Some members of the jury noted that it all started to feel like lip service with the usual buzzwords in play, leaving juror Upali Nanda, vice president and director of research for HKS and executive director of the firm’s nonprofit Center for Advanced Design Research & Evaluation, noting that submissions need to say less and convey more.

Juror Kara Freihoefer, an associate and research specialist at HGA Architects and Engineers, added that she’d like to see research given precedence at the beginning of projects to shape the design, rather than being promised after completion. “Research serves as a valuable tool to determine project goals, assess the current state, and project future assumptions. Pre- and post-occupancy investigations are resourceful to fully evaluate the significance of design decisions,” she said.

And while submissions, for the most part, fell flat on validation, it was clear that projects were approached with defined objectives to improve the quality of care provided through improvements to the built environment. And, well, that’s not a bad thing. It’s certainly better than designing a space to simply be pretty.

“The very fact that architects and designers are staking out aspirational goals but failing to achieve them doesn’t diminish the power of the collective desire to want to achieve more, do better. And going forward, there’s a certain comfort in that,” said juror Peter Lambur, architect and principal at Peter Lambur Architect Inc.

I look forward to seeing what the submissions to next year's Showcase will bring and hope that even more evidence will be brought to the table to prove the benefit of designs created with these very best of intentions.

For more Healthcare Design Showcase coverage, see the following: