Shortly after joining Nashville, Tenn.-based ESa (Earl Swensson Associates) in 1995, Matt Manning had the opportunity to become a full-time member of the firm’s healthcare team, cutting his teeth on an expansion and renovation for Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Ga. The project provided one of his first lessons in dealing with the complexities of healthcare design when, during a schematic design user meeting, he didn’t ask the client to clarify a medical procedure they were discussing. “Rather than embarrass myself, I made a note to ask about it later,” he says. “That evening, while we were headed to our hotel, I asked one of our principals to tell me how he learned about all the medical procedures they were discussing. He looked at me and said, ‘All you need to do is ask questions.’” Manning has put that simple, yet effective advice to use during his two decades with the firm working on a variety of projects, including recently with Dignity Health East Valley Rehabilitation Hospital (Chandler, Ariz.), Floyd Polk Medical Center in Cedartown, Ga., and Florida Hospital Apopka (Apopka, Fla.). This year he’ll be heading back to where he started with projects at Floyd Medical Center as well as taking on the role of principal at ESa. “There’s a great deal of pressure on healthcare systems in the age of reform,” he says. “It’s our job to make spaces more appealing to patients, more flexible and usable on a 24/7 basis, and allow staff to be more efficient. The challenges that await are more exciting than ever.”

What drew me to a career in architecture

“As a child of the ’70s, ‘The Brady Bunch' had a big impact on me. I saw that this guy [Mike Brady] was an architect, had a cool house, always had a new convertible, could afford a housekeeper, and had six kids—looked good to me. I don’t have a housekeeper, six kids, or a convertible yet!”

What I like best about working in healthcare design

“I don’t begin to consider myself an idealist, but what keeps me going is knowing that we are designing spaces that foster healing and help make better lives for so many people.”

Challenge that keeps me up at night

“Usually it’s a minute detail. The bigger questions I can set aside. I guess I know that they won’t go anywhere in the course of a few hours.”

Three words my coworkers use to describe me



no one will tell me a third—I assume that must be bad

Biggest pet peeve on a project

“Making things more complicated than they need to be. Sometimes the simple solution is the most elegant and thoughtful solution.”

Sign that I need a new hobby

“My favorite weekend activity is cutting my grass. It gives me a chance to think, wear earbuds, and listen to the latest podcasts. Plus, what else can I start and finish in a little over an hour and see real results? I guess this is in response to the multiyear projects we deal with every day. Sometimes, it’s really nice just to see a result in a short period of time.”

Outside the office, you’ll likely find me….

“Working on my house, and trying to talk my wife out of adding more projects to the list that’s already not done. I never win, by the way!”

Favorite …

Architect/designer “Aldo Rossi. His sketches are beautiful and express a very dynamic movement and energy. On a more practical side, I have to give Michael Graves credit for advancing our thinking about design of the everyday object and his thoughts on the design of healthcare environments.”

Quote “I have a friend and client who once made a point by asking if I could eat an elephant. My answer was ‘No, I could not.’ He responded by saying. ‘You certainly can, just take one bite at a time.’”

Piece of furniture in your house “We have an antique stainless-steel coffee urn that was originally powered by steam (I would guess it brewed 100 cups at a time). My wife got it at a church yard sale. I still don’t know what she paid for it, but it’s the coolest side table I have ever seen.”

TV character “Jerry Seinfeld. His first show was genius since it was about nothing, but his current show, ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,’ captures his love for cars and I share this particular weakness. It’s a pure joy to watch and see how he pairs cars with his guests.”

Way to unwind after a long day “People get to unwind?”

On the importance of challenging preconceived notions in a risk-averse industry like healthcare

“If something doesn’t seem quite right, I’ve found that it frequently isn’t. I bet we can all think of at least one time someone made us question our usual way of doing a specific task and found what we thought was right was, well, wrong. We don’t aim to suggest changes simply for the sake of change, but, rather, to be sure we’ve provided an avenue for making the best decisions possible.”

Manning recently completed a project for Floyd Polk Medical Center in Cedartown, Ga. Photo credit: © Kieran Reynolds Photography.