For healthcare designers who think that the American Institute of Architects is a newcomer to the field of healthcare design, perhaps only tangentially connected with it, please think again. For more than 50 years the Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH) has served, in various forms, as the AIA’s outreach to practitioners of healthcare design—indeed, making the AIA quite possibly the first professional organization to have a formal relationship with the field. Recently AAH Past-President Scott H. Miller, AIA, FACHA (and, in his “day job,” Senior Healthcare Planner with BSA LifeStructures) reviewed the AAH’s history and the offerings and opportunities that have evolved from it, in this online exclusive interview with HEALTHCARE DESIGN Editor-in-Chief Richard L. Peck.

Peck: Tell me a little bit about the background of the AAH.

Miller: It began in the 1950s as the AIA’s Committee of Architecture for Health. Over the years the Committee grew in size and evolved from a member service orientation to one of industry service. In the 1990s it changed its name to the Academy of Architecture for Health. AAH has been, and continues to be, a sounding board for healthcare architects across the nation, enabling them to share thoughts and ideas on issues and trends in the field, as well as providing topical educational forums.

Peck: What are some specific AAH achievements and/or offerings that have occurred over the years?

Miller: After the federal Department of Health and Human Services stopped the funding of the “Guidelines” in the late 1980s, the AAH, as one of its missions to the healthcare industry, continued to provide this important service. The Facility Guidelines Institute was formed (with its genesis from within the AAH) and publishes the AIA “Guidelines for healthcare Construction.” There were publications in 1994, 1997, 2001, and 2006. They are “the code” for Healthcare construction for 42 states and are known in the industry as the AIA Guidelines. The new guideline updates are on a cycle of every three years, with numerous committees (using not only architects and engineers, but code officials, medical staff, and manufacturers) continually investigating and reviewing proposals for change.

Second, the AAH has sponsored educational healthcare conferences since the early 1980s. Today the AAH is in partnership with the American Society of Healthcare Engineers (ASHE) for the spring Planning, Design and Construction conference and with HEALTHCARE DESIGN for its fall conference and presents its own Summer Leadership Conference in the summer. This last has been a single-theme conference—last year’s was a presentation and discussion of “public spaces” in healthcare—and the aim is to offer very high-quality, graduate-level material to a select audience of about 150 leading healthcare architects. It’s by invitation-only, but invitations can be obtained by “asking” to attend.

A strong component of the fall conference (in regards to the AAH’s mission to reach out to the emerging professionals) is the student design charrette involving students from four to six healthcare architecture schools. The charrette has been in place for more than two decades. The students are given a real healthcare problem to solve and are juried by leading practitioners in the field. We also sponsor a Graduate Fellowship Program (in place since the 1970s), which provides research funding to graduate students for healthcare-related topics.

Peck: The AIA, as a whole, seems to be devoting increasing attention to sustainable, or green, design. Is the AAH following suit?

Miller: We are taking a hard look at the “value” with our clients. Healthcare buildings have energy-intensive MEP considerations and it requires a lot of thoughtful design and construction coordination to create “sustainability.” I am a big believer in “showing me the numbers”—the real numbers after two to three seasons of use. So I’m waiting for the long-range studies to be done. That’s not to say there aren’t some sustainable activities, such as responsible storm water management or waste recycling/disposal, that the designer should take on as a public service.

Peck: What do you, personally, see as the future of healthcare design?

Miller: I see a big “hole” coming down the road—specifically, the issue of availability of professional staffing, or the lack of it. Where will we get the nurses to care for tomorrow’s baby boomers? What about the doctors we’ll need? There are shortages developing in both areas and, while we can design and construct a dynamic healing building, if you can’t staff it appropriately, what’s the point? Public policy really has to pay attention to this.

Peck: How did your own involvement with healthcare design come about?

Miller: After graduating from the University of Illinois at Champaign in 1981, I went to HKS in Dallas and, within a few weeks, was asked to join their new healthcare design studio. It was a natural fit for me. Healthcare design deals with pulling together an incredible complex logistical puzzle, with every space in the facility having a unique shape and purpose with unique technical equipment, a myriad of different codes and regulations to comply with, and the aspect of trying to create humanizing/healing spaces for the users (patients, families, and staff). It fit in well with a natural gift set I have of putting puzzle pieces together. In retrospect, I do wish I had gone to one of the healthcare architectural schools for training in the field. I have also had the great opportunity to work with an incredible array of talented and passionate healthcare architects in my association with the American College of Healthcare Architects. Altogether, my career in this field been a great experience for me, and I know there’s an incredible need for this type of specialization.

For more information about Scott Miller or AAH, phone 317.819.7878 or e-mail