The 2022 Healthcare Design Conference + Expo  will be held Oct. 8-11 in San Antonio. The annual event will offer a variety of keynote and breakout sessions on a range of topics.

Healthcare Design is previewing some of the upcoming educational sessions in a series of Q+As with speakers, sharing what they plan to discuss and key takeaways they plan to offer attendees.

Session: “E81- Urban Medical Centers and their Neighborhoods: Design for Health and Vibrancy”

Speakers: Daniel O’Shaughnessy, Associate Principal, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Scott Habjan, Senior Associate Principal, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; and Timothy Keane, Director of Planning and Development Services, City of Boise.

Despite the importance of urban medical centers to their communities, the design of these facilities is typically driven more by their considerable planning constraints than their humanistic mission and role as “the ultimate community facility.”

Their size, planning, and operational complexity almost invariably places them at odds with the scale and character of their urban neighborhood context.

This session will focus on how evolving ideas of both healthcare and urbanism can combine to create a new model for the urban medical center that can improve the health and welfare of patients, visitors, and staff, as well as neighborhoods for the mutual benefit of all.

Healthcare Design: How are ideas about healthcare and urbanism evolving?

Scott Habjan: Healthcare is evolving in many ways including telemedicine, personalized medicine, and wearable technologies. The shift towards preventive care and wellness, as well as attention to clinician burnout (accelerated by COVID-19) are also at the forefront of driving healthcare innovation.

Daniel O’Shaughnessy: Even before the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way we used cities and the expectations placed on public health at all levels, there was a transition underway toward more livable and more sustainable urban places that encourage health and wellness. Cities all over the country are reinventing infrastructure—from urban highways to waterfronts to, yes, outdated medical centers—and encouraging development that focuses on walkability, ground-level vibrancy, and access to nature.

What role do urban medical centers hold in their neighborhoods? 

Habjan: Like government buildings or universities, urban medical centers are real anchor institutions within a community. In addition to providing neighborhoods and cities access to essential healthcare services, they also provide significant jobs and generate considerable business for the local economy.

Importantly, some urban medical centers are expanding their core mission by further engaging with their communities to offer other social services related to health. Unfortunately, the actual design of these facilities typically makes them feel more “apart from” instead of “a part of” their neighborhoods.

O’Shaughnessy: The key for us is that these urban medical centers increasingly have a responsibility to be good urban neighbors—not only health infrastructure, but community infrastructure as well. Design has a huge role to play in making this work.

What’s a forward-thinking design approach that you’d like to see applied to these projects?

Habjan: As attitudes about healthcare continue to evolve toward wellness and preventative care, urban medical centers can embody and facilitate that movement by expanding their offerings to address the social determinants of health and encourage fitness and nutrition. They can support a more holistic approach to healthcare that includes making it easier to take care of one’s own health.

Ways this can be achieved is through urban medical centers identifying synergies with other community organizations (such as a YMCA or a local farmers’ market) and creating partnerships on-site.

By embedding highly visible wellness programs like these on the ground floor, urban medical centers can activate the public realm, expand their mission, and become more vibrant community hubs.

What’s one takeaway from your session that you hope attendees walk away with?

Habjan: Urban medical centers should be the ultimate community facility and by re-inventing themselves as urban health centers they can do just that.

For more on the HCD Conference schedule and registration, visit