Frank Murdock Pitts, founding partner and president of architecture+ (Troy, N.Y.), began his architecture career in the 1970s and quickly became drawn to projects and industry leaders, such as Herman Hertzberger (who was one of the first architects to solicit user participation in the design process), that focused on fostering human relationships. Those interests eventually led him to work on psychiatric hospitals and behavioral healthcare facilities at a time when few in the industry were doing such work.

“All you had to do is visit a psychiatric hospital and see how full of despair they are,” he said. “And they shouldn’t be. They should be joyful places that give people a chance. It just seemed like [work] you had to do it.”

Colleague Joan Saba, partner at NBBJ, called Pitts “a lone voice at the time,” during her interview with Pitts as part of The Center for Health Design’s Changemaker Award ceremony at the 2018 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference in Phoenix earlier this month. The Center recognized Pitts for spending his career becoming an advocate, educator, and designer who’s internationally recognized for his impact on the planning and design of psychiatric facilities.

Saba and Pitts discussed his career and all that’s changed over the decades, including trying to get his career off the ground during a recession (“I learned you could make something out of nothing if you cared,” he said.) and working through the ’80s when changes in regulations, policies, and budgets impacted the industry.

Preferring to focus on the opportunities of the moment, Pitts said today the industry is in a different place. “The economics, understanding, and science of behavioral healthcare is changing,” he said. “I think we’re in a moment where we’re about to change everything,” he says.

This evolution in thinking is allowing more patients to be identified and brought into treatment earlier, which is bringing an influx of new patients into the care stream and creating demand for facilities that can treat and address the needs of a broader spectrum of patients at different stages of treatment.

Furthermore, he told the HCD Expo audience that he wants to see design teams challenge their clients to do more than make safe behavioral healthcare environments, but instead focus on creating environments where patients can prosper, using design solutions that focus on reducing violence and aggression and creating spaces where clinicians can get to know their patients better.

“The nuts and bolts are important,” Pitts said. “But the moment is calling for more.”