In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what has their attention and share ideas on the subject.

Emily McGee is a medical planner in the healthcare group at HOK (Washington, D.C.) and a Bloomberg Fellow at Johns Hopkins. Here, she shares her thoughts on bridging the gap between sustainable design and public health and using health data and metrics to design better spaces.

  1. Environmental design is a practice of public health

Our individual and collective health is linked to the places we inhabit. The social determinants of health can—and should—be addressed through architecture. For example, design that promotes active transportation, such as walking and biking, can be used to benefit communities with high levels of obesity and heart disease. Buildings that run on renewable energy and provide public greenspaces can improve air quality in polluted neighborhoods. These are just some of the ways designers, clinicians, and health systems can work in tandem to support public health within the built environment.

  1. Using urban planning to transform food equity

Over a decade ago, sustainability strategist Henry Gordan-Smith popularized the concept of “agritecture,” a term for how urban planning can incorporate agriculture to increase food resiliency. Yet today few buildings certified as “sustainable” address the issues of food supply or food insecurity. In the face of climate change, it’s time agritecture becomes a larger part of sustainable design. By integrating, localizing, and codifying agriculture into the built environment, we can improve communities—particularly marginalized ones—by expanding access to healthy foods, broadening knowledge of agriculture, providing job opportunities, and infilling vacant properties.

  1. Using health data and metrics to design better spaces

Hospital design demands that we make informed decisions, build trust, and improve patient outcomes. Access to diverse pools of data—including individual, collective, and institutional data—enables architects and owners to create buildings that offer holistic solutions and remove the guesswork from design. From leveraging intake data to design more efficient room layouts to using population health trends to predict future healthcare needs, the opportunities to improve patient outcomes through data are endless.

  1. Leverage design thinking beyond architecture

Architects are trained as systems thinkers, using design as a lens to process and engage with our world. As a master’s of public health candidate, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in fields adjacent to the design profession, including epidemiology, health systems policy, and environmental engineering. I’ve used my practitioner’s perspective to collaborate on community solutions beyond the built environment. I encourage all my peers to do likewise and seek ways to use design thinking to help solve broader societal challenges.

  1. Long COVID and the next health crisis

Long COVID continues to affect the health and productivity of millions and stress our public health system. To combat this and future health crises, designers need to focus on more outcome-based goals and integrate design solutions for preventative and holistic wellness. These components of integrated care include “bottom-up” approaches that push healthcare beyond the hospital walls by providing patients with care and support opportunities via technology and extended community resources.

Want to share your Top 5? Contact Managing Editor Tracey Walker at for submission instructions.