For the first time in the 14 years we’ve been doing the Healthcare Design Showcase, our Award of Merit winners come exclusively from outside the U.S. That’s not to say there isn’t great working happening here—there is, and you’ll find plenty of examples throughout this website—but when it came to sheer “wow” effect, South West Acute Hospital in Northern Ireland and the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer center in Sydney stood out to our jurors and ultimately rose straight to the top.

It’s true, the projects that tend to catch my eye the most lately are sitting on foreign soil, in the U.K., Australia, Asia, and the Middle East. Partly it’s because they’re often so different from what we see here. So is it just a grass-is-greener thing? 

Not entirely. “International projects are especially exciting, and they will almost certainly compose a growing percentage of projects in the portfolio of leading healthcare design firms,” says Showcase juror Sheila Bosch, director of research at Gresham, Smith and Partners (Tampa, Fla.). “Those who design outstanding international projects know the importance of having a deep understanding of local cultural nuances that take these projects from functional to fabulous.”

Then there are those pesky but important U.S. building code requirements, which can’t help but rein in fabulousness to some degree, and other, less tangible constraints. Juror Kim Ritter, an associate with GBJ Architecture PC (Portland, Ore.), notes that work being done outside the U.S.—in a lot of cases, done by U.S.-based firms—suggests that “there’s a lot of ballast in [our] system and impediments to innovation.”

Executive Editor Jennifer Kovacs Silvis offers more juror insight into international and domestic trends gleaned from this year’s Showcase submissions in “Setting a New Standard for Healthcare Design." But one thing’s for sure: Design firms are smart to keep their eyes open beyond our borders for more healthcare work to come. As healthcare architect and planner Sheila Cahnman wrote in “Healthcare Megaprojects: They Do Exist,” “Government-sponsored healthcare [overseas] allows for a centralized management and funding mechanism. Countries are rushing to catch up due to population growth, extremely obsolete or undersized facilities, and transformation from Third World economies.”

As healthcare facilities morph and grow all over the world, the key is to make sure we continue raising the bar for everyone.


For more Healthcare Design Showcase coverage, see the following: