Even doing rounds with her oral surgeon father as a kid didn’t inspire Joan Albert to consider a career in medicine or healthcare design. Instead, she followed her love of travel and experiencing different cultures, earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.

While looking for a job after graduation, a friend suggested Albert pursue her interest in art by studying architecture. She subsequently took a few design classes at Drexel University and Harvard Summer School and fell in love with the profession.

After graduating from SCI-ARC, an independent architecture school in Santa Monica, Calif., she spent 10 years at Page designing “jewel buildings” for the hospitality, commercial, and academic sectors, before the opportunity arose to participate in project interviews for two greenfield projects at Houston Methodist and Texas Children’s hospitals.

It was while working on the Houston Methodist campus that Albert, who was named principal four years ago, says she knew she could make a difference by bringing her skills in other sectors to healthcare settings.

“It also allowed me to engage my training in anthropology to provide a variety of spaces that accommodate different cultural attitudes toward medicine,” she says. Most recently she’s contributed to projects for University Medical Center, in El Paso, Texas, a Healthcare for the Homeless Houston project, and a VA mental health clinic in Houston.

What was your first project in healthcare design? 

Houston Methodist West Houston Hospital.

What lesson did you learn on that project that you still carry with you today?

How to integrate all my design experience from other building types into healthcare design. Because I was new to healthcare, I experimented with using materials from my hospitality and commercial projects, to challenge the existing language of healthcare architecture and interiors.

What trend in healthcare design do you find to be a breath of fresh air?

New technology and the potential for the redefinition of space that will come from current and future developments. I’m working on a clinic for millennials right now, and it’s interesting to see how younger people perceive healthcare for themselves. Telemedicine, mobile device check-in, and digital quick-scan diagnostics could give designers the ability to redistribute space.

Which design trend do you wish would go away?

I think mauve and seafoam green have finally gone away, so I’d have to say TVs on brackets hanging from ceilings.

How has the experience of living in many places, including Turkey, China, and Italy, shaped your work as a designer? 

It made me more aware of people’s different perspectives on personal space. Also, a keen awareness of religious diversity has been translated into nondenominational chapels in all my recent hospitals. The staff really utilize those spaces to find balance on their stressful days.

You once participated in an archaeological dig in Peru. What memory stands out to you from that trip?

We spent two weeks digging and cataloging in a dry remote area. On the 10th day, I found a part of a figurine from the Moche era (600-700 AD). It was like being a kid again, the thrill of discovery; I was so excited! I’ve promised my daughter I’ll take her on a dig in a few years.


Three words that describe your design aesthetic

1 tactile

2 cohesive

3 light (creating airy spaces, bringing natural light into places in unique ways, and making use of man-made light)


Three items on your desk

1 tubes of watercolor paint

2 notes from my daughter

3 stainless-steel map of Philadelphia (given to me by a coworker because I’m from there)

Dog or cat?

Both! My daughter wanted a white fluffy dog as a toddler, so we got a Maltese/Shih Tzu mix from the SPCA. Then last year, we went back to get a cute little flame-point kitten that promptly turned into a 20-pound ball of long hair.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee, any variety. A dry cappuccino is my favorite.

Morning person or night owl?

Definite morning person. Didn’t work well for all-nighters in school, but I can get up and get stuff done now.

Beer, wine, or liquor?

Beer. Although a nice glass of red wine is a close second.

Window or aisle seat?

Aisle. I need to be able to get up and walk around.



Quote “This too shall pass.” This was my grandmother’s favorite quote, and she is one of the strongest women I’ve known. (Although I looked up the origin and apparently, it’s from medieval Persian Sufi poets, but was also employed in a speech by Abraham Lincoln. Who knew!)

Movie character Louise from “Thelma & Louise.” I love her fierce independence. Plus, the movie has a great soundtrack.

Weekend activity Running followed by the local farmer’s market with my daughter and then maybe a museum, a nap, or errands.

Band/musical artist Eclectic. From Eminem to Elton John. (“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was the first album I ever purchased, at a yard sale with money I made babysitting.)

Guilty pleasure Going to movies by myself and sitting there with a big tub of popcorn.

App/website Strava and RockMyRun apps. And Atlas Obscura website.

Travel snack Cranberry Kind bars (and for breakfast most days, too).

Ice cream flavor Mint chocolate chip—unequivocally.

Sports Tennis to play, football to watch.

Team Philadelphia Eagles.

Hobby Painting.