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HOK’s Kimberly Dowdell Talks Architecture and Public Health at Aspen Ideas Festival

Kimberly Dowdell, HOK’s director of strategic partnerships and the 2024 president-elect of the American Institute of Architects, joined Michael Murphy, founder of MASS Design Group, and Bon Ku, M.D., director of the Health Design Lab at Thomas Jefferson University, for a discussion on how design impacts healthcare delivery and health outcomes.

The Building for Health panel covered several topics related to healthcare design, the built environment and how architects can work with cities to improve public health. Dowdell began the conversation by showing a Chicago neighborhood map based on people’s life expectancy. In the wealthier zip codes of north Chicago, life expectancy is around 90 years old. A few miles to the south and east average life expectancy dips to about 60.

“It’s important for all of us—as architects, doctors, everyone—to have serious conversations about how we got here,” said Dowdell. “How did we get to this disparity and what can we to close those gaps?”

Dowdell made the argument that architects have a particular responsibility when it comes to thinking about how disparities within the built environment, such as food deserts and environmental hazards, impact people’s health and well-being.

“Architects have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public,” said Dowdell. “Yes, architecture is also about aesthetics and design and beautiful buildings. But architecture, at its best, elevates the human experience. At the end of the day, we are technically responsible for protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

View the entire conversation below:

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