David Allison is well-known in healthcare design, thanks to a 30-year tenure at Clemson University, where he’s the alumni distinguished professor and director of graduate studies in Architecture + Health. In that role, he’s served as adviser and mentor to numerous students who have gone on to become industry leaders, inspired by his vision and guidance.

Allison’s deep commitment and contribution to this field was celebrated at the 2019 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference with The Changemaker Award, an honor from The Center for Health Design that recognizes individuals who have demonstrated an exceptional ability to make change happen in how healthcare facilities are designed and built, and whose work has had broad impact throughout the industry.

Allison’s longtime friend and colleague, Byron Edwards, professor of practice at Clemson, joined him on-stage for an interview, walking the audience through The Changemaker’s impressive career. Attracted to architecture at a young age, drawing house plans in elementary school in Philadelphia, Allison ended up heading South after high school to attend Clemson. The architecture program’s Bauhaus-style curriculum eventually led him to healthcare design, a discipline he was drawn to in part thanks to its collaborative nature. “It’s a big learning community. And we’re fortunate to be part of this community,” he said.

After a brief stint in practice on the West Coast, Allison made his way back south, where he was charged with revitalizing Clemson’s architecture and health program. And while it’s been a decades-long process, Allison initially developed the program by focusing on service learning, evolving to a more structured research agenda, and next partnering with the Center for Health Facilities Design and Testing at Clemson, a move that helped return the program to its original roots in partnership with the school of nursing.

Over the years, Edwards said Allison has come to be known as a “bulldog” when he decides to do something, rigorous in his approach to getting things done and always searching for quality.

One issue close to Allison’s heart is the inherent conflict that exists in healthcare design: “How do you balance the benefits of evidence-based design and research with the creative act of making things?” he said. “It came down to point of view.” Using the analogy of viewing the moon, Allison explained that we’re all looking at the same thing, just from different sides. “Our job … is to get as complete a view of quality as possible,” he said.

It’s critical, he added, that healthcare designers share that comprehensive knowledge with those they’re creating environments with, to truly achieve a holistic approach. And if healthcare designers are charged with orbiting that moon, Edwards noted that Allison is responsible for sending 370 satellites—or students—into space. “I think your legacy is your students,” he said.

But Allison has learned plenty over the years, too, and still does. “The great joy of being an educator is you’re being paid to be a lifelong student,” he said.