Southern Ellis’ career has taken him around the globe, starting as a graduate student at Texas A&M, where his thesis project involved designing and building a hospital in a remote village in Tanzania. After graduating, he joined HKS in a fellowship role that allowed him to pursue research in China, investigating hospital design across the country, while working in the firm’s Shanghai and Dallas offices. Today, he balances medical planning on a variety of projects and leading the Design for Health graduate studio at the University of Texas Arlington. Outside the classroom, you’ll find him focused on his family and restoring their old home.
What drew you to a career in healthcare design?
I was wandering aimlessly through architecture school, trying to find a career that would allow me to actually impact people. Then, in my junior year at A&M, I met Professor George Mann. Instantly, I could see how the work of my hands could bring life and healing. I was in.
What design lesson did you learn on your thesis project that you still carry with you today?
Our buildings should be designed with the community rather than for the community. I spent time early in the design process of Songambele Hospital in Tanzania learning about local construction techniques and meeting people from the village. This allowed me to better understand how these building blocks fit into the context of the community and how we could weave impact into each phase.
How does your experience as a professor impact your work at HKS?
Teaching forces me to learn my trade at a much deeper level so that I can explain it in a way that my students will grasp. Time in studio is also a great reminder of the big picture and purpose for why we chose this field, which can sometimes be lost after long days in the weeds of a large project. It’s reinvigorating and focusing.
Three healthcare design projects you’ve worked on in the last year and your role
1 Parkland Moody Outpatient Center, Dallas, medical planner.
2 Memorial Cancer Institute, Pembroke Pines, Fla., medical planner.
3 Integris Baptist Medical Center Heart & ICU Expansion, Oklahoma City, Okla., medical planner.
Three unexpected items on your desk
1 a panda tie given to me in Beijing by Professor George Mann.
2 several of my son’s toy cars. (He calls them “wee-wees.”)
3 a catalog of historic architectural millwork.
Outside the office, you’ll likely find me….
With my wife reading to our two-year-old son, Stone, and 6-month-old daughter, Storey, or working on our house.
What’s a new habit you’ve picked up since the coronavirus pandemic?
Restoring historic plaster. We bought a century-old historic home last year and I spent 6-plus months fixing the plaster on most of the walls and ceilings.
Dog or cat?
Neither. Growing up, I had a Shetland pony.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee, preferably with a breakfast taco.
Fiction or nonfiction?
Window or aisle seat?
Aisle. I’m pretty tall so it’s helpful.
How did you make your first dollar?
Mowing lawns. I look forward to the day I can outsource this job to my son.
Your go-to karaoke song.
“Single Ladies” by Beyonce. I don’t typically sing it; I dance it. It’s a real crowd pleaser in China.
First album you ever bought
“Space Jam: Music” soundtrack.
Your hidden talent
I was starting quarterback of my high school football team, a big deal in Texas, the land of Friday Night Lights. I can still “throw a football over them mountains.”
If you weren’t an architect, you would be …
If teaching is off limits, as well, I’d be a developer. It would be fun to be involved in crafting an even broader view of the project vision and impacting communities at a neighborhood scale.
You have an irrational fear of …
Missing a flight. On family vacations, I lean towards arriving at the airport quite a bit earlier than my wife would like.
Quote “Remember, you are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”—from “You Are Special” by Max Lucado.
Movie character William Wallace in “Braveheart.” He bravely inspired a movement, fighting and ultimately dying so that his countrymen would know freedom.
Weekend activity I spend most weekends restoring something on our home.
Band/musical artist Maggie Amini.
Color Benjamin Moore White Dove.
Guilty pleasure Binge watching “The Last Dance.”
App/website The Build Show Network, specifically the Brent Hull videos on historic architecture.
Snack when you travel Honey roasted peanuts.
Ice cream flavor Pistachio.
Sport College football.
Team The 5-time NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs.
City to visit Cusco, Peru. We travelled here on our honeymoon. It’s a perfect mix of history, beautiful architecture, and incredible food, set in rugged mountains.