Project designer Alicia Wachtel was working at HOK in the commercial and justice sectors when she was invited to try a new project: a 500,00-square-foot replacement hospital to be built in four phases.

“The role offered an opportunity for career advancement, but at that time I thought a hospital was an ugly hotel,” she says. After one meeting, though, she was hooked on the industry. After 20-plus years at the firm, she joined Cedars-Sinai in 2018 where she leads capital projects related to expansions, off-campus growth, and care delivery transformation. As she prepares to speak at HCD Expo in October, she shares what drives her work as well as her life outside the office.


What do you like best about working in the healthcare design sector?

I love the technical complexity and the human aspect. Together they make a building type like no other.

What challenges about working in the healthcare design sector keep you up at night?

Obsolescence. It takes a long time to complete our projects—is what we design today cutting edge in 10 or 20 years from now?

On healthcare design trends

Thumbs up: The search for innovation. Technology is changing how we think about buildings and healing, and it’s that jolt to assumptions that might create something totally new.

Thumbs down:  The adoption of every new idea as a “cure” for it all. As new ideas are rolled out, healthcare designers are convinced that there’s one and only one option and that no other solution is valid.

You’ll be speaking at the 2021 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference in Cleveland. What’s one thing you hope attendees will learn in your session? 

That the knowledge we personally possess needs to be shared and documented so that all of us and our industry can continuously learn and collectively avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Three healthcare design projects you’ve worked on in the last year and your role

1 Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Replacement Hospital, New Replacement Hospital, Marina del Rey, Calif., owner, executive director.

2 Hillhurst Urgent Care and Primary Care, Los Angeles, owner, executive director.

3 The Angeles Clinic Cancer and Research Institute, Los Angeles, owner, executive director.

Three unexpected items on your desk

1 Tiny bottle of the original 4117 Eau de Cologne. One breath and memories of my childhood home and grandparents revitalizes me.

2 huge simple calculator with huge buttons (a gag birthday gift but it never gets lost because it’s so big).

3 roll of sketching paper. Most people think that I only attend meetings and don’t sketch anymore.

Outside the office, you’ll likely find me …


Dog or cat?

Dog. I believed my kids when they said they would take care of the pup.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee. It clears my mind.

How did you make your first dollar?

Interning for an architecture school professor during college.

Your go-to karaoke song?

No, no, no, no karaoke.

First album you ever bought?

Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

Cocktail of choice?

Bloody Mary.

Your hidden talent?

Knitting/crochet. It started at my daughter’s request to knit a Baby Yoda!

If I wasn’t working in healthcare, I would be…

A researcher. I truly enjoy discovery, filling gaps in knowledge, and contributing to the development of something new.

I have an irrational fear of …

Dead birds.

Favorite …

Quote “Traveler, there is no path. A path is made by walking.” (Sounds much more beautiful in Spanish).—Antonio Machado, Spanish poet.

Movie character Saga Noren, from “The Bridge” (Broen),  a Swedish detective on the autism spectrum. She’s unapologetically honest, smart and socially clueless—a fun and surprising mix in the detective noir genre.

Weekend activity Day trips out of town.

Band/musical artist Cold Play and Tame Impala (psychedelic music project of Australian multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker).

Guilty pleasure Skipping the gym.

App/website Audible.

Sport Soccer.

Team Penarol Uruguayan soccer team.

City to visit Melbourne. The city has European charm from decades ago and the creativity and character of a modern insular city. It’s also beautiful and people never ask me where I am from despite my accent.