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 Phillip Rollfing  

Health care innovator

George Mann: Pioneering
health care facilities design



Texas A&M professor George Mann entered college thinking he’d become a physician, but he soon learned he preferred to “make things” with his hands. Now he combines his two interests by specializing in designing better hospitals, decision that has led to his appointment this month as to the Ron Skaggs and Joseph Sprague Endowed Chair in Health Facilities Design.

“As an architecture student at Columbia University, I proposed a project to design a healthcare facility in India,” Mann says. “All the other students were making models of houses, so my request was a little out of the ordinary. But I just had the instinct that I could really do something to help people by improving the way hospitals and clinics are designed.”

Approaching his last year at Columbia, Mann wrote to 20 health ministers all over the world looking for a real project to cap his degree work. He received one response, from the minister of health in New Delhi, inviting him to design a 600-bed hospital in Imphal. Mann took that letter to his design- studio professor, Edward Romieniec. But Romieniec had other ideas -- he planned to have his whole class design a housing project for Rochester, N.Y. Mann resisted, enlisted his classmates in pleading his case, and Professor Romieniec relented.

Later, Romieniec became Texas A&M’s architecture department head and then the first dean of the College of Architecture. Remembering Mann and his push to design the Indian hospital, he invited him to come to Texas A&M in 1966, to initiate a unique architecture for health program. Mann committed to spending one year as an Aggie, but he’s still here after about four decades.

Before his current appointment, Mann, an architect, was the Ronald L. Skaggs Endowed Professor of Health Facilities Design at Texas A&M’s College of Architecture. His instincts have been proved correct by the more than 4,000 students he has influenced over his 40-year career and by the contributions he and his students have made to building better healthcare facilities – more than 450 of them worth in excess of $3.5 million -- all over the world. Two of those students were Ronald Skaggs and Joseph Sprague.
Skaggs, a fellow of the American Institute of Architectures, was a member of Mann’s very first class at Texas A&M in 1966, and he became interested in designing healthcare facilities. Skaggs now is chairman of HKS, one of the premier and among the largest architectural firms in the world, with a significant portion of its practice devoted to health facilities design. Sprague, also an AIA fellow, is senior vice president and director of health facilities at HKS. Sprague was in Mann’s fourth class and received his masters of architecture from Texas A&M in 1970. Partners who work closely together on health and hospital facilities worldwide, both Skaggs and Sprague remain staunch supporters of Texas A&M.

“The guiding research and educational philosophy of our program here in health facilities design is to undertake actual case study projects, with clients who have real needs, sites and requirements and who are willing to work closely with the College of Architecture,” Mann says. “This approach has been highly successful, as witnessed by the hundreds of our graduates who are involved in architecture for health across the globe, as leaders of major firms, architecture professors, hospital planning directors and members of government agencies.”

Students from all over the world come to Texas A&M to study with Mann and his colleagues.

“Our program focuses very heavily on evidence-based design, the results of which are shared with the design studios and design students and influence their work greatly,” Mann says. “Evidence-based practice involves using the results of research into what types of design promote patient health and staff efficiencies and incorporating those findings into actual building plans.”

Most recently, students in Mann’s classes have completed proposed designs for facilities like
a women’s shelter for Hempstead; M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Hatfield Hospital, Hertfordshire, U.K; Mansfield Medical Center, Mansfield; Project Mandy, a home for a student paralyzed in a car accident, College Station and dozens of other facilities.

“Healthcare is continually evolving, and architecture for health must adapt to the new environment and the new demands this brings,” Mann says. “And healthcare facilities themselves must be constructed to be adaptable to changes in technology and in the social construction of healthcare delivery. We can’t practice 21st century medicine in 19th century facilities. Medicine is not going to stop, and neither is our program – we will continue to prepare our students to positively and innovatively impact healthcare design.

“The population of planet Earth will soar in the decades ahead and healthcare needs and opportunities will be as numerous as the stars in the sky!”

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George Mann