I had the pleasure of heading to Chicago this week for the annual HEALTHCARE DESIGN magazine Architecture and Interior Design Showcase judging, where a panel of jurors from across industry segments was on hand to choose the best of the best among more than 100 project submissions.

The projects were narrowed down to a pool of 18 that were considered for the highest honor, the Citation of Merit.

While my attendance at the judging is partly to wear my hat as Managing Editor of HEALTHCARE DESIGN, I also enjoyed listening to the discussions taking place on this year’s projects with an ear to the more Healthcare Building Ideas-oriented construction and engineering feats being accomplished.

Jurors—who include interior designers, architects, engineers, construction representatives, and owners— each brought their unique perspectives to the table as they discussed what they found to be highly effective projects that not only answered the needs of ownership and overcame obstacles, but that were truly innovative in what was delivered.

What I found fascinating is that while there were plenty of beautiful facilities weighed and measured by the jurors, simply making something pretty wasn’t always enough for this group. In many cases, what they noted as innovative touched upon what our HBI audience does every day.

There were projects that made impressive moves in green and sustainability efforts, including moving beyond LEED and toward The 2030 Challenge, conducting energy modeling, and reducing C02 emissions as well as waste. This also included regular appearances of green roofs and water recycling programs, and one boasted a solar thermal heating system for hot water.

Along the lines of reducing waste, an inventive use of prefabricated building components on a couple of projects yielded a high reduction in construction waste while also greatly speeding up the schedule.

Efficiencies were built in with Lean and Six Sigma, and kaizen events influenced the design of space to reduce medical errors and infection rates.

We also saw inventive use of BIM that went well beyond clash detection and moved into use for purchasing and asset documentation.

What was happening behind the scenes on these projects, whether in building systems or operations, showed innovation that was measured just as incredible feats of architectural design were.

Overall, it was a fruitful day of not only evaluating a slew of great projects, but also in recognizing the importance of every industry player—from the designer to the engineer to the owner—and what each of them may consider to be true innovation.

And when all of those observations and opinions come together and identify particular projects, I think that’s when we truly do find what represents the best of what this industry has to offer.

Watch for updates at healthcaredesignmagazine.com for the results of this year’s Architecture and Interior Design Showcase and Citation of Merit awards.