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16 June 2014

USGBC+ Interviews HOK’s Henry Chao about Healthy Buildings


The USGBC’s new member publication, USGBC+, asks HOK’s Henry Chao what makes a healthy building.

Henry Chao

Healthcare in the United States is undergoing major changes, with the underpinnings of the system shifting away from simply treating incidents of illness toward promoting overall health and well-being. And for architects like Henry Chao, design principal for the global healthcare practice at HOK, this shift provides an opportunity to create hospitals and facilities that contribute to this broader purpose. Here, he speaks about subtle design decisions that change perceptions of illness for the better, the parallels between planning hospitals and planning cities, and LEED’s role in fostering a 21st-century sense of what it means to be healthy.”

“The beauty of a hospital is that the architect needs to take the essence of medicine, take the essence of healing, and the essence of science, interpret it, adopt it, express it in a way that it can communicate with its surrounding in a reciprocal manner… it is a two-way dialogue. Each hospital needs to speak about health in a manner that the community can accept and understand.”


After I joined HOK, one of my larger projects was at Ohio State [the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Expansion], where we’re dealing with a 1.2-million-square-foot cancer center, with the vision not to treat cancer patients as though they have done something wrong or made a mistake, but to treat cancer as just part of a stage of life. That notion coincides with a major shift in the healthcare environment—and I want to take away the word ‘care’—the health environment in the United States that’s happening right now. We’re trying to switch from a solely episodic disease treatment health system into preventive and health maintenance and a healthy living society. That’s a tremendous thing, and we as architects have a tremendous opportunity to contribute.

“Healthcare facilities deal with the most traumatic moments of people’s lives: when you’re born, when you’re sick, and when you’re actually leaving the world. It’s an emotion-filled environment. But by doing work for a healthcare facility, when you sit down across the table from the healthcare providers—the doctors and nurses—you are talking to a group of very smart, well-educated, well-read people. When I sit down with them, the conversation is always about how I can make an environment the most conducive to better their practice—which is, in general, saving people’s lives. That is absolutely fascinating to me.”