The future of healthcare design education: 5 takeaways from ACHA 2016

Creating a network of experts to talk next generation healthcare design education

When architects and educators in healthcare design come together and talk about teaching the next generation of healthcare designers, good things happen. That’s the idea behind the AIA Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH) American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA) Educators Summit which took place last week at our Chicago office.

Healthcare in America is in the midst of a sea change toward a population-centered model. Today’s challenges are not just about delivering healthcare, they’re about how healthcare can engage with the community to promote long-term healthy behavior. What does this have to do with healthcare design and creating healthy environments? Everything.

On July 21st, VOA now Stantec had the pleasure of hosting the ninth-annual AIA AAH/ACHA-sponsored Educators Summit, a prelude to the annual AIA AAH/ACHA Summer Leadership Summit. The Educators Summit annually brings together experts in healthcare architecture and healthcare design education in an intensive, single-day forum.

Moderated by Clemson University’s David Allison FAIA, FACHA, this year’s summit welcomed nearly 40 attendees representing NAAB-accredited schools with distinguished degree/certificate programs including University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, University of Kansas, Kent State, Clemson and Boston Architectural College as well as professionals from healthcare architecture.

This event gives institutions and professionals a rare chance to listen to one another and share ideas for furthering healthcare design education. The format fosters a dialogue between educators and professional organizations in healthcare design. It lays the foundation for a healthcare design education community.


I have many thoughts on this inspiring day-long gathering of great minds in healthcare design education, but I’ve focused on five takeaways.

  1. Healthcare is in the midst of change. Before we design anything, our students must have an understanding of where medical practice is going. A big theme at the ACHA conference this year was that healthcare institutions to be effective must reach out into the community to connect with and learn about their patients and promote healthy lifestyles. Healthcare design today involves guiding our clients through this new environment. We must educate our designers to think more like public health officials.
  2. There are many different ways to teach healthcare design. Healthcare design education might sound very specialized, but it’s still a young discipline and invites a variety of approaches. We heard from Savannah College of Art and Design, which emphasizes product design, and others, like Texas A&M that focus on cross-training of designers in public health policy. Still others are steeped in the application of evidence-based design thinking that engage students in projects like large-scale master planning in Kenya. Most featured traditional architecture programs. All are valid, and have much to learn from each other.
  3. Research needs to be codified. To further healthcare design, we need to improve access to the research on healthcare design and education that’s already out there and the research to come. The Center for Design Research Initiatives tells us that it is working a mechanism for taking completed research, codifying it and sharing it. They call it “research in a snap.”
  4. Aspiring healthcare designers need a guide between education and certification. At the summit, we discussed whether healthcare design can be captured adequately in a study guide. We talked about building upon the existing handbook and developing a program for a guide book to areas of study for architects pursuing ACHA certification.
  5. The ACHA Educators Summit is becoming an international event. This year’s edition welcomed attendees from as far away as Kenya with representatives from the Union of International Architects and Global University Programs in Healthcare Architecture. Healthcare design takes place all over the world and we need to facilitate knowledge sharing across borders whenever we can. We expect next year’s event will be even more global in representation.

Speaking with attendees, I am proud to report that the ACHA Educators Summit and reception was judged a success, and we anticipate hosting the event again in 2017.

I plan to attend as a representative of the University of Illinois lecturing and facilitating a student workshop on hospitals in the urban habitat. I look forward to being a part of this emerging healthcare design education community.


    Great post, Doug! I always enjoyed attending those summits as a representative of CHD. Thanks to Stantec for hosting such an important event.

    Thanks Sara, you will have to join us next year, and of course stay for the reception afterward. Lets chat sometime on my next research subject. Would love your thoughts on it.

    Hi Doug – thanks for a detailed and enthusiastic report. I appreciate the double billing for the AIA AAH and ACHA in the opening remarks. However, in a number of places, you refer to “the ACHA Educators Summit” and the “ACHA conference.” As 2016 President of the AAH, I feel I have an obligation to point out that the Summer Leadership Summit is presented jointly by BOTH organizations, and and the Educators Summit supported jointly by BOTH organizations. Thanks!

    Hi Doug- thanks great summery report. We are looking forward to ACHA and other Healthcare design educators to open up to the world, and embrace new design thinking ideas that are working better with new medical technologies, more economical, and flexible to adapt to future healthcare building changes “building design concept that offer better flexibility /adaptability”. Furthermore we need additional research about whole building system integration that will have positive impact on Healthcare facility operation. further more what will impact Healthcare facility operation

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