Tulane, Perkins+Will Join Forces to Research “Healthcare Villages”

While a fairly new typology in the US, these "villages" will likely become more prevalent in the future.

As a professional in my late 20s I reached a point when architecture school was no longer a recent memory, so I began to seek ways to build closer ties with my alma mater, Tulane University.  While I look forward to financially supporting my university one day, I haven’t been out of school long enough to be able to contribute in that manner in a meaningful way. My engagement with the MSRED program at Tulane Architecture arrived at an opportune time and provided a different way to contribute.

I am the national research knowledge manager for healthcare sustainability for Perkins+Will, a global interdisciplinary design firm where I focus exclusively on reducing the resource impacts of the built environment on human and ecological health. In this role, I’m 50% research and 50% project based and work with clients like Stanford University Medical Center, the National Guard Health Authority for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and many other organizations.  My research is often integrated into the broader context of a specific problem, in collaboration with NGOs and private organizations. In most disciplines there is an inherent need for research and innovation. This need is of particular importance in the emerging field of sustainable design, where each new generation of projects seeks to identify innovative solutions that will enable them to continuously raise the bar of performance. Sustainable buildings seek to do less harm to the environment, while living buildings strive to do no harm and achieve a form of stasis. Ultimately the goal is for regenerative buildings that have the capability to heal. Today there remain significant gaps in our knowledge and expertise.

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I work with project teams during design and construction. In the process I’m often confronted by some fundamental roadblocks, such as the perception that sustainable design inherently has a first cost premium, and that it lacks a meaningful return on investment for the funder. I began to understand this reality while still in school and working on a design-build project, a transitional homeless shelter. This experience of working for a real client and budget, in collaboration with user groups and practitioners contributed more to my knowledge than any other academic experience.

In 2005 my single-semester studio was delayed by Hurricane Katrina and it took six years to complete the New Orleans Mission Family Center which achieved LEED Silver certification in August 2010 (the very first in the City of New Orleans). This experience of learning first hand of the real world roadblocks of sustainable design led to my master’s thesis, Sustainability for Sale; The Caress of Commodity. In it I explored the human and ecological benefits provided by sustainable design. Though architects understand the benefits of sustainable design, for developers, still, there exists no greater incentive than the financial in our free-market society.

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An architectural thesis provides a bridge between academia and practice. For me it represents a roadmap to help guide the beginning of a professional journey.  Since I wrote my thesis, the primary focus of my professional career has been a continued quest to prove the financial benefits of sustainable design, and the returns that are possible with such an investment. Often this requires an iterative process (frustrating at times) of client, consultant, and contractor education on each project.  While I was eager to work with the MSRED program simply to support my alma mater, I also had a selfish reason. I was looking for an opportunity to influence a future healthcare real estate developer early in his career and cultivate an understanding of the positive outcomes made possible by a sustainable design. In many ways working with Kasey Liedtke and the MSRED program resembled my typical research collaborations with geographically disparate participants and utilizing technology to work towards a common goal. That said, there is an obvious difference in the expertise of a professional as opposed to even a high level graduate student. On the other hand, an academic collaborator brings a unique quality to the table that practitioners have long forgotten, and that quality is curiosity.  It can help mitigate the expertise gap, as curiosity itself is often the beginning of knowledge.

Our research collaboration focused on understanding the financial opportunities provided by sustainably designed developer-led healthcare villages. This is a fairly new typology in the United States, likely become more prevalent in the future. In this model the developer funds, constructs, and operates a healthcare campus in conjunction with a local healthcare provider. The collaboration culminated in a white paper, Healthcare Villages: Development Strategies for Our Health, which functions as a meta-analysis of existing research on the financial cost, benefit, and return on investment of sustainable healthcare design. The paper collects, organizes and analyzes the sourced research, and has provided me, and my firm, with a concise resource to share with existing and prospective clients. My engagement with the MSRED program may have begun as a means for me to contribute to my alma mater. But it resulted in a mutually beneficial relationship. It is this synergy that represents the greatest value of a practice-based education, and should support increasing adoption by both professional firms and academic programs.


Breeze Glazer is the research knowledge manager for healthcare sustainability at Perkins+Will, a global interdisciplinary design firm. He is passionate about redefining the role and impacts of the built environment on human and ecological health and has applied his expertise to a range of projects across a multitude of scales including acute care hospitals and academic medical centers, to corporate office renovations and transitional homeless shelters. Breeze has been very active in taking an industry-based leadership position in sustainable healthcare design, frequently sharing his expertise through speaking engagements, webinar-based programs, and authorship of publications and white papers. Breeze can be reached at breeze.glazer@perkinswill.com

Categories: Design Education, Sustainability

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