2019 Rising Star: Austin Ferguson, AIA, EDAC, associate, ZGF Architects LLP (New York)

Since joining ZGF more than two years ago, Austin Ferguson has worked on a variety of projects across the country, ranging from clinic renovations to new inpatient bed towers. He’s also held several roles, including project manager, project architect, and medical planner. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture and a Master of Architecture + Health from Clemson University.

Healthcare Design: What drew you to a career in healthcare design?
Ferguson: My father’s battle with colon cancer and subsequent passing ultimately led me to healthcare design. I spent extended periods of time in hospitals and clinics around the country during his treatment. After his death, I had a natural aversion to hospitals and clinics. As an undergraduate student, I took a class with Clemson’s Architecture + Health graduate program, which sparked an interest in how design impacts the experience of patients and visitors in healthcare settings. I was quickly fascinated by the empathetic desire that drives architects to improve healthcare environments, the technical complexity of planning facilities, and ways to successfully integrate continuously evolving healthcare technology.

What’s one recent project that you’re most proud of?
I’m most proud of the work I contributed to the University Health System, Women’s and Children’s Tower in San Antonio. The project includes a 14-story, 672,600-square-foot expansion and renovation that will house the hospital’s pediatric and women’s services. My role focused on planning a universal patient floor and women’s center. The scale and complexity of the project taught me several lessons, including the importance of consistent collaboration with team members located in other offices. This created a team dynamic that supported in-depth review and discussion of all planning iterations and considerations in order to provide the most effective layout. The process also encouraged me to explore different design mediums and find the perfect combination of programs to quickly iterate multiple layouts; the resulting technique has been instrumental in effectively executing work on subsequent projects.

What do you think is the number one issue facing the healthcare design industry in 2019?
The flexibility and adaptability of healthcare spaces is becoming a significant focus for institutions as they try to get the most return on investment in light of the rise in construction and healthcare costs. It has also been evident working in New York City—as well as other cities where space is a limited commodity—that institutions greatly benefit by being able to flex a space between multiple uses. This has become a challenge as minimum space sizes and clearances required by FGI continue to increase. Beyond the hands-on clinical spaces, provider and caregiver workspace is also at a premium in most projects, as growing interdisciplinary teams are involved with treating patients.

What’s one idea you have for overcoming that problem?
Designers and institutions can address issues of flexibility and utilization by comprehensively analyzing current and anticipated future operations and space requirements. Institutions are beginning to implement universal patient rooms that can serve any level of acuity, which also responds to the expected increase of acuity for future patients. Another example is the size of operating rooms: With a standardized module, ORs can accommodate both inpatient and the growing number of outpatient procedures. Room infrastructure also can be designed to more easily expand rooms and integrate emerging technologies. Additionally, institutions are starting to explore demountable and reusable product systems and materials that have the potential to reduce cost and time as they convert or renovate space in the future. However, architects must critically review and assist owners in identifying the correct assemblies for potential flexibility that meet all the requirements for budget, performance, and life cycle.