The HCD 10: Douglas King, Architect

Douglas King’s 41-year career has been dedicated to helping healthcare systems around the world design, develop, and renovate facilities that respond to emerging industry trends. Specifically, his work has focused on broad topics such as community health/population health management, vertical building design for limited land use, and rapid response to emergencies such as natural disasters and global pandemics—serving as critical expertise for the latter last year.

In spring 2020, King helped oversee the conversion of three halls within Chicago’s McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America, into an alternate care facility with 3,000 beds for COVID-19 patients. The project was completed in just 25 days.

King’s involvement with the McCormick Place conversion led to his participation in crafting the new U.S. healthcare standards addressing emergency response for the Facility Guidelines Institute’s 2022 document update, in which the project will serve as a case study.

Prior to the pandemic, King worked on some of the largest hospital projects in the world, overseeing vertical developments as a strategy to build hospitals closer to urban population centers while allowing adequate program space for outpatient services, research, and medical education (for example, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Feinberg Pavilion and Galter Pavilion and Prentice Women’s Hospital).

In 2021, he was appointed to the Urban Land Institute’s ULI Health Leaders Network and is collaborating with public health experts in examining the role of large-scale hospitals in urban settings. He also represents the healthcare community in the worldwide Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats organization.

Additionally, in the past year King expanded his focus on what he calls “forgotten spaces”—areas dedicated for mechanical/electrical/plumbing, IT, and fire protection systems. His research on these areas has shown they account for more than 12 percent of space in a high-rise facility, and when combined with structural elements like stairs, elevators, and exterior walls exceed 25 percent of total space within large structures. Through benchmarking, King has created guidance that allows projects to better anticipate this square footage in early design and avoid cost overruns that arise when those spatial needs are overlooked in programming.

King also continues to serve as adjunct faculty at both the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign and the University of Kansas and gives workshops and lectures at numerous other institutions and industry events.

What do you love most about your job?

In my current role as national healthcare sector lead at Project Management Advisors Inc., I am enjoying the opportunity to grow a healthcare practice across seven offices. This activity utilizes my greatest attributes, that of connecting individuals within the industry and encouraging others to expand their involvement within the profession.

What industry challenge do you hope to solve?  

I’d like to create a commonly understood process for developing community health-related projects and, in tandem, create a repository for knowledge on strategies that have been proven through research to benefit improvement of public health within community health settings. These two efforts would further attract those in the development community to invest in community health projects.

What did you learn over the past year?    

The big aha for me was how concerns for health design have permeated our entire society. Examples include the ability of surfaces to transmit virus, the behavior of air systems in transmitting virus, the one-way flow of people through buildings—these were all concepts that are familiar to those of us in healthcare planning and design but became commonplace in our culture worldwide. An outcome of this societal awareness is an appreciation for healthcare design and the importance in our daily lives of an informed/educated body politic about public health matters.

Who/what inspires you?

I am inspired by the leaders I meet in the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Health Leaders Network. I have met some incredibly talented and focused individuals leading initiatives and research within the ULI Health community. I’m also inspired by those at the vanguard of teaching healthcare planning and design. I am fortunate to know many of the leaders in the U.S. at universities engaged in teaching the future generation of healthcare planners and architects. I never get tired when I am in the company of the education world; if anything, it is an energizing experience.

What’s the next major trend you anticipate for healthcare design?

I would like to offer two trends that I have seen emerging. The first trend in healthcare is a further integration of research into the clinical and education setting within academic medical centers. With the heightened interest in research as an outcome of the pandemic—and the tremendous benefits to the entire world that research brought forth—I think that we will see further integration of this aspect of healthcare into the overall healthcare campus setting.

The second trend is that I’m seeing a proliferation of “public health” type projects emerging. Projects that are using decommissioned health facilities or strategically placed available land in larger urban areas to be developed for community health uses to address inequities in healthcare access and to address overall community wellness. I hope to help foster this interaction between public health, urban design, and the healthcare provider community.

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