Amid the recent building boom in healthcare, hundreds of facility designs have made their way from the drawing board to actual buildings open for business. However, only a handful of them combined design excellence with functionality and flexibility to become an award-winning project, according to the judges in the 19th annual Design Awards, sponsored by Modern Healthcare and the American Institute of Architects' Academy of Architecture for Health.
The best projects were ones that seemed to care most about people-whether they were patients and their families or the caregivers, says Edward Huckaby, a healthcare architect on the judging panel for this year's awards competition. He faulted some designs for heaping too much attention on lobbies and other public spaces while ignoring patient-care areas, citing one cancer-care center that he says simply lined up its chemotherapy chairs "like sardines." Such facilities were downgraded during judging or dismissed altogether.
"We wanted to see something that advances the art," he says.
Some questions posed by the judges: Were the various design concepts ones they've seen many times before or did they present something new? Did they look beyond solving the immediate problem to anticipate future needs? Were the new facilities on the leading edge of science and healthcare architecture?
Projects that won the votes of this year's judges used simple designs that were well-thought-out with good site planning for flexibility and the convenience of patients and providers alike. On the other hand, designs that looked "forced" or "took on odd shapes and forms for the sake of it," Huckaby says, didn't make the cut.
From a project in the Colorado Rockies that looks more like a ski lodge than a hospital to a wellness center that easily blends in to its rural California landscape, judges say they appreciated designs that melded with their natural habitats.
"The contemporary approach (recognizes) that good health begins with the environment that we live in on a daily basis," judge Ray Grady says of a wellness center project. "If we take care of our spiritual, emotional and physical well-being, our overall health is improved."
Judges voted on four criteria: design excellence, functional utility, responsiveness to patient and family needs, and flexibility of design. Of 189 entries this year-compared with 171 entries last year-the judges handed out three awards of excellence, three honorable mentions and two citations-all in the built category.
This year's awards dinner is set for Oct. 28 in Washington.