Developing Healthy Communities

Health-care development experts ask whether design can play a bigger role in community health.

“There’s no better time to talk about health-care design and access than during the worst health crisis in memory,” said Avinash Rajagopal, editor in chief of Metropolis and moderator of “Developing Communities for Better Healthcare Access,” a recent Think Tank session. “Access to health care has not been discussed enough when we think about the built environment. But the pandemic has shown us how critical an equitable distribution of health-care access is.”

The five-person panel was drawn from the academic, design, and corporate worlds, and focused on New York.

The panel’s representative from academia, Farzana Gandhi, associate professor of architecture at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), said: “What is preventative care in relation to the urban environment? We designers have a way of thinking big-picture and are uniquely positioned to deal with these messy problems.” She continued: “My practice and research are for open and inclusive health-care design.” But this won’t happen without increased knowledge of hospital and clinic design among young architects, she explained.

To this end, Daniel Cusick, health principal, HDR, which hosted the event, noted that his firm helped create a master’s program in medical architecture design at NYIT. “Students need to be thinking about health-care solutions before leaving school,” he said. As an architect, Cusick also had civic consensus on his mind: “We work with community boards as well as developers; we look to mayors and city councils to make good decisions about the kind of health-care facilities needed in their localities.”

Advocate Outpatient Center exterior
In Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, architecture firm HDR converted an old big-box store into the Advocate Outpatient Center, completely transforming the building’s appearance with a metal canopy and new landscaping. COURTESY TOM HARRIS

Panelists talked about expanding care and focusing more on patients’ needs, in New York and beyond. Northwell Health, New York’s largest health-care provider, was represented by Randolph Howard, senior vice president of corporate facilities, who averred that “all of us are infused with care that is patient-centered. It’s not the old model, where everything revolved around the physician. For patients, we listen to their needs and wants—and their fears.” Peter Jungkunst, assistant vice president of facilities, EmblemHealth, said his firm is expanding care, community by community. “We recently opened three clinics in the Bronx. On Staten Island we opened a clinic in a shopping mall.” And Fabio Thiers, founder and CEO, Ponto Care, is proposing a radical idea: treating people in their homes, using new technologies like telehealth. “Our key value proposition is to improve access,” he said.

Near the closing, Howard made a bold prediction: “Eventually hospitals will be dinosaurs; you’ll have birthing centers, super-ICU centers for the sickest of the sick, and specialized surgical centers.” Even in urban areas, he said, “we want [to provide] that small-town comfort and be super dedicated to reaching out to the communities.”

The Think Tank discussions were held on October 7, 14, and 21. The conversations were presented in partnership with Arc-Com, LX Hausys, Versteel, GROHE, and Arden Studio.

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