With an estimated $200 billion in U.S. health-care construction planned for the next decade, how hospitals are built and operated will have a huge impact on the environment. And Gail Vittori means to have an impact on those hospitals. With her husband Pliny Fisk III, Vittori is co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, a nonprofit design center in Austin, Texas. MaxPot, as it's known, advises institutions of all kinds--from a homeless shelter in Austin to the Pentagon as it rebuilt after Sept. 11--on how to adopt environmentally sound materials and practices. But Vittori and Fisk have a special focus on health care. Two years ago, Vittori led a committee that devised the Green Guide for Health Care, a 360-page "design tool kit" that suggests steps that hospitals and other facilities can take to reduce hazardous chemicals and adopt green practices everywhere from the cafeteria to the housekeeping department.
"We have a long way to go to clean up what's really an unhealthy set of materials," she says. The guide, which can be downloaded at www.gghc.org is currently the basis for more than 100 pilot projects at health-care facilities across the U.S. The California health-care giant Kaiser-Permanente has just decided to adopt Green Guide principles at its new Modesto medical center.
The latest showcase for the MaxPot approach is the new 500,000-sq.-ft. Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, set to open this June, which aims to be the first hospital in the world to attain platinum status in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Its green features include heavy use of local and renewable materials, on-site wastewater facilities and windows that open, allowing fresh air to become an alternative to energy-consuming air conditioning. Vittori's vision of hospital design also extends to the mental well-being of the patients and staff. The Dell Center's low-rise buildings, linked by courtyards and quiet spaces, are designed to be child-friendly and unintimidating. The gardens will reflect the plant life of the surrounding area, giving the children the comfort of familiar sights. And as everybody knows, there's no color more comforting than green.