Architecture/design is best achieved when expertise is proven and client trust is earned over time. Here’s why it matters.
By Angela Kolosky
AIA, ACHA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
Associate Principal, Healthcare Planning Market Leader
I remember the moment vividly. Our team had just spent several days of intense design meetings with doctors, nurses, and administrators of a critical-access hospital. The goal was aligning the design of a new surgery center to meet their operational, financial, and strategic goals. Toward the end of the final session, the chief nursing officer turned to me with tears in her eyes and said quietly, “You listened to us.” I still get choked up thinking about it.
When people think of architecture and design, most assume it’s intellectually gratifying — which of course it is. (It takes years of experience to translate the clinical needs into functional and beautiful spaces.) But they might not imagine how emotionally gratifying our work can be as well. Much of that gratification comes out of the long-term client relationships we build as a team.
What started as a referral from another hospital client has evolved into a long, trusting partnership. Earned over many months, that trust and confidence in the quality of our work served as the foundation for DesignGroup to find creative paths for success with them, tailored to their needs and those of their community. That meeting was a reminder of why I get up every morning and do what we do. And it’s at the heart of why so many of our healthcare clients believe in our knowledge and experience, and return to us project after project.
As healthcare architects we become truly invested in the success of our clients. These are people our own loved ones might visit, people who save and restore lives. They are beacons in their communities. It’s a privilege to engage and support their greater goals and missions. This work is much more than transactional. It’s personal.
The Value of Partnership
When our firm celebrated 50 years in 2022, we reflected on 50 of our most iconic projects. Virtually all of them came from multi-year clients. Enduring partnership has been a differentiator for DesignGroup from the very beginning.
Time invested in these relationships yields a variety of dividends for our clients. When we have familiarity with the client and their needs – institutional knowledge – we’re able to hit the ground running and arrive at innovations faster. When trust is established and stakeholders are familiar, it’s easier to know who to talk to, and to have direct, candid dialogue. We’re more responsive because the things that slow projects down, such as apprehension or miscommunication, just aren’t there.
But getting to that point takes work. Familiarity and trust are earned. There’s a commitment both ways. As one of my coworkers has described it bluntly, “there’s no coasting.” Once trust is earned, it must be nurtured by elevating the client’s operations and their team, and consistently bringing unparalleled passion and expertise to every interaction.
To elaborate on this idea, I asked several designers on our healthcare team to share select stories of these ideas in action. I think their examples of collaboration and trust are inspiring and show just how productive long-term partnerships can be.
Partnership Proven Over Decades
Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, OH
From the start, DesignGroup was firmly rooted in healthcare architecture and service to community hospitals. We realized early that we needed to win larger, more complex work, so we pursued projects with The Ohio State University Medical Center. Our first job was a toilet room renovation.
From that humble beginning our experience grew along with the complexity of Wexner Medical Center projects. In time we cemented our seat at the table with Ohio State, the largest consumer of A/E services in the region. Since 1998, DesignGroup has been a part of every planning study prepared by the Medical Center. No other firm – local or national – has this distinction. “It’s the result of four decades of trust earned for our thinking, our service, and our delivery,” says Sherm Moreland, DesignGroup CEO.
A hallmark of DesignGroup’s work: our plans are executable, and have resulted in many of the university’s premier facilities, including The Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital (which introduced groundbreaking concepts of universal and acuity-adaptable patient rooms), the Davis Heart and Lung Research Center, the Brain and Spine Hospital, and the Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute (the largest and most advanced sports medicine facility in the Midwest).
Most exciting is the roughly 2 million sf, $2 billion Inpatient Tower, currently under construction. “DesignGroup led the team that programmed, planned, stacked, sited, and priced the new tower,” says Moreland. “Our commitment to seeing projects successfully through to completion is evident — we have two full-time architects on this project alone through completion and activation in 2026. Our relationships extend from the C-suite to the construction trailer.”
Honesty in Action
Norton Health, Louisville, KY
DesignGroup’s Christopher Haedt had his own deeply moving client moment. “We were in a meeting discussing a new project at the Children's hospital and an administrator pulled us into the hall for a clap out.” Clap outs are the moments when very young patients leave after a long stay, and staff and family alike applaud as they exit. In this case, a child who had been there for nearly two years was heading home for the first time.
“I will never forget being part of that experience,” Haedt recalls. “Seeing the overwhelming connection between the family and the staff, the tears of joy, and the embraces for all that had been done to help that child go home.” DesignGroup had recently completed work on that PICU/CICU. “Just thinking about it still brings me to tears. It was one of the most rewarding moments in my career. The space we created allowed the clinical teams and family to heal!”
DesignGroup has worked with Norton for two decades on multiple projects, including a complex 103,000 sf addition to and renovation of Norton Children’s Hospital, a 172,000 sf bed tower addition to Norton Brownsboro Hospital, a 48,000 sf Comprehensive Neuro program, and many planning and feasibility studies.
DesignGroup project teams engage with and lead Norton, often seeking ways to improve operations without requiring construction, and driving projects that do require construction to be on or ahead of schedule – and on or under budget. “DesignGroup is viewed as a partner, committed to the success of the health system,” says Haedt, DesignGroup Principal and Columbus Healthcare Practice Group Leader.
“What we consistently hear from the owner is how open and honest dialogue ensures they have the best design to make their spaces patient and family friendly,” says Haedt. “While also maximizing clinical space to be as eﬃcient as possible for the staﬀ and their providers.”
Distanced But Very Close
Morris Hospital and YMCA, Morris, IL
Our work with Morris goes back more than half of DesignGroup’s 52 years, as we’ve helped the system respond to growing community demand and anticipate the future. “Having such a strong, long-term relationship doesn't just streamline our processes,” says Joseph Mayer, DesignGroup Principal and Senior Designer. “It allows us to bring a deep understanding of the community, and its specific needs and dreams, to the forefront.”
Despite the literal distance between DesignGroup’s Columbus studio and the client in Illinois, the teams have always been aligned. “Thanks to our deep ties to that community, we’re considered local to them,” says Mayer. “When it came time for the local YMCA to build a new facility in conjunction with the hospital, we were ready, folding in expertise across the office with a team that knew the community deeply.”
That familiarity allowed DesignGroup to more easily build consensus with community leaders, understand the project in the context of larger goals for the town, and make decisions that were not just in the interest of the client, but the people they serve every day.
Equal Success With Internal Initiatives
Allegheny Health Network (AHN), Pittsburgh, PA
DesignGroup recently celebrated our 6th year of localized service to clients in the Pittsburgh region, but our commitment to the regional healthcare market extends much further back. “The evolution of mutual trust between our team members and the clients we serve has, at its core, the commitment to providing ‘service over self’ in all that we do,” says Thomas Chidlow, DesignGroup Managing Principal and Pittsburgh Healthcare Practice Group Leader.
DesignGroup has worked with AHN for more than a decade. “Each project has been an opportunity to gain further trust through collaborative problem solving to the sharing of the rewards for a project well-done,” says Chidlow. This level of trust extends to our collaborative efforts with AHN internal initiatives, such as strengthening the design team/client communication process, overview of BIM standards, and confidence in the opinions shared through the design process.
All of this has led to a range of ambitious projects, including current collaboration with AHN on the new Neuroscience Institute at Allegheny General Hospital. We were asked to evaluate and assess previous program thinking and opportunities for improving the outcomes of the previous design process. Based on previous work with another long-standing client, our team offered insights for program adjacencies and care specific to a neurological patient type not previously discussed with the team. This review resulted in additional exam space and greater market viability.
“This level of confidence in DesignGroup,” Chidlow says, “has allowed our relationship with AHN and key regional clients to continue to grow."
Angela Kolosky, AIA, ACHA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C | Associate Principal, Healthcare Planning Market Leader
As a Healthcare Planner, Angela uses her experience, client data, and national benchmarks to create solutions where design can create positive outcomes for patients and staff. She brings this thinking to every project and has a passion for creating impactful, positive spaces for a critical and vulnerable population. Angela is an ACHA board-certified architect and was named one of Healthcare Design’s Rising Stars in 2020. Angela speaks and writes nationally on healthcare planning topics for Healthcare Design and Healthcare Facilities Symposium. She’s also a founding member of the Ohio Chapter of Women in Healthcare where she advocates for the advancement of women in healthcare outside of the field of architecture.