Healthcare a Growing Focus in Architecture Schools

Posted on September 5, 2011


Clemson and Texas A&M are the two schools practitioners most frequently identify when asked about successful healthcare design in architecture schools. However, more programs are being initiated.

Some schools also noted as having healthcare design incorporated into their programs in some form:  Arizona State, University of Kansas, Georgia Tech, NC State and the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Outsiders to design might wonder why there are so few. The primary reason is that most architecture schools do not teach design around a specific industry, like healthcare, or project type, such as restaurants. Part of this is market driven:  many clients, especially in Europe, trust an architect with design training can tackle any building type. Given the fluidity of the design profession in the “real world” (architects have a structured, three-year minimum internship that requires varied job experiences and frequent job changing prior to registration is common), the difficulty in identifying a specialty or concentration in architecture school is premature.

Another recent addition to schools with healthcare, and my alma mater:  the University of Virginia. In May, UVA’s School of Architecture established the Center for Design and Health. Its focus is a broad spectrum of design collaboration and not solely on healthcare; however, its stated mission is “to pursue cross-disciplinary research to advance the design and planning of patient-centered medical facilities and healthy neighborhoods, towns, and cities.”

The debate between the role of architecture schools in relation to private architecture firms has been ongoing for decades. At the heart of the issue is the primary aim of architecture schools:  to ready students to become licensed (and thus more immediately marketable to prospective employers) or to teach them how to design and critically think? In other words, to teach technical skills or design thinking skills

At this point, the professional demand for healthcare architects is not so overwhelming that architecture schools need to tailor programs to specific industires. When it does, architecture schools will feel a greater need to respond. Until then, learning design in four to six years, let alone mastering industry-specific criteria and differentiatingly marketable skills, appears a difficult enough challenge.