Architect Gina Chang says she’s learned more about healthcare operations in the past three years than in the 13 before that, thanks to time spent working on high-acuity outpatient projects rather than her usual inpatient work. The difference? On general hospital projects, decisions are often determined by regulations. “You spend more time discussing the specifics of the patient types, the logistics of how they get in and out, and juggling differing opinions from the organization about levels of acute care,” says Chang, who joined CO Architects (Los Angeles) in 2007.

Her busy schedule has included a variety of projects, including the University of California San Diego Health System Outpatient Pavilion (shown at right), Kaiser Permanente Irwindale Specialty MOB, and UCLA Women’s Health Center. But whether focused on inpatient or outpatient facility design, she says her favorite part of working in healthcare is digging deep into complex operational and technical issues and coming out with a simple and beautiful solution.

“I’m a nerdy problem solver who loves to mull over a problem until I have that ‘aha’ moment,” she says. “It’s a rush!”

On industry trends

Thumbs up: Patient-centered, team-based care models that promote a collaborative work environment. These new work environments focus on collocation of all team members (rather than separating people by hierarchy), off-stage zones for staff away from the public and patients, and spaces that encourage hanging out and spontaneous interactions.

Thumbs down: A strict decentralized nurses’ station model. I talk to nurses who lament that it completely ignores the social support system integral to the nursing profession.

Challenges that keep me up at night

The ones that deal with people’s expectations and emotions. Every person sees solutions differently, and solving problems is not simply black and white. I’ve learned to be a good listener and remain open, transparent, and honest. After that, it comes down to a couple humans solving a problem together.

Three words my co-workers use to describe me

  1. collaborative
  2. caring
  3. coolheaded

Three items on my desk

  1. notes and sketches
  2. old granola bar wrappers
  3. a photo of my kids somewhere

(I’m not a neat desk keeper)

Biggest pet peeve on a project

When someone says, “I’ve been doing this for 20, 30 years, so I know that can’t work.”

Outside the office, you’ll likely find me…

Teaching my kids how to draw. Drawing is as fundamental as reading and math. It’s a good form of communication, focus, and understanding. And it’s fun and creative.

Favorite …

Notebook for sketching

CO recycles old drawing sets into notebooks. I love them because they’re abundant and green, and sometimes I’ll see an old project of mine on the other side.


“Think different.”—Apple ad

Vacation spot

With a 4-year-old and 6-year-old, our favorite vacation spot is Hawaii. We love seeing the lava tubes and volcano at the Big Island and swimming in the calm, clear waters of Kauai. I’d love to travel more internationally with my family when they’re a little older.

Piece of art in your house

Bamboo stand-up paddleboard hanging on the wall in my kids’ playroom. It’s beautiful and reminds me of the weekend.




TV character

Dr. Gregory House from “House.” It’s a total stereotype of a genius diagnostician with a God complex, which I shouldn’t support, but he’s my all-time favorite character on TV.


Does sushi count as a snack?

Way to unwind after a long day

A little wine, watching Food Network, and snuggling with my kids.

Weekend activity

Summers are my favorite because I love the California beach life on weekends. My son Max and I cold-press some juice or the family gets a big breakfast together, then we head over to the beach. We watch the waves and build sandcastles. I stand-up paddleboard, which reminds me that the ocean is a much deeper abyss than the paperwork on my desk.

Favorite architect/designer

Rem Koolhaas. Sometimes, I feel like Alice in Wonderland in his buildings, like he designed these incredibly cool spaces for people to take them on a journey. It reminds me that architecture—even healthcare architecture—can, and should, be fun, cool, and whimsical at times. It’s made for people, and people at their core like to feel happy and curious.