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Sustainable Healthcare Design

Gail Vittori is co-author of Sustainable Healthcare Architecture (Wiley Press, 2008) with Robin Guenther, FAIA. As co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, Vittori also helped develop the Green Guide for Health Care ( and chairs the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Healthcare Committee. TA Editor Stephen Sharpe recently interviewed Vittori about her book and her purpose in writing it.

Why write this book at this particular time? Healthcare holds a pivotal role in the civic realm. The U.S. healthcare sector represents about 17 percent of the gross national product; in 2007, there was more than 100 million square feet of healthcare-related construction activity representing about $23.7 billion. However, as green building has taken a front seat within the commercial office and residential sectors, healthcare has been a slower adopter. Our book is an effort to reconnect the healthcare sector with the intrinsic links between sustainable architecture and healthcare’s mission of health and healing, and to profile the burgeoning activity in the U.S. and internationally that represents a template for 21st-century healthcare design.

How do you define ‘sustainable’ in terms of healthcare design? For our earlier work on the Green Guide for Health Care, we developed the phrase “high performance healing environments” as a way to convey the breadth and depth of sustainability in the context of healthcare facilities.


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While “high performance” speaks to building operations, addressing quantified performance metrics such as energy and water use, “healing environments” introduces the significant attribute of healthcare facilities as places for healing—for the patients to heal, for staff to deliver healing services, for the building to contribute to ecological healing on the site, community, and global scales. So the framing of health and healing extends from the facility and what happens inside the walls to the much broader scope. When one thinks of healthcare facilities, it is often as places to take care of sick people. Think, instead, how healthcare facilities could evolve to serve the more pivotal civic role of promoting health and healing. There is an intrinsic humanism in healthcare facilities and we want to honor and celebrate that.

In terms of sustainable design, how does healthcare differ from other institutional typologies? One reason why healthcare has lagged behind other sectors in terms of integrating sustainable design materials and methods is that it is highly regulated—some say over-regulated. There are legitimate concerns about infection control and protection of immunocompromised patients. Healthcare is also distinguished from other sectors in terms of energy intensity—it is the second most intensive building type, with more than two times the energy use per square foot than commercial office buildings, so it has a major role to play in addressing climate change. In terms

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Texas Architect May/June 2008: Healing Environments  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...

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