Double black diamond skier Bill Daigneau likes a good challenge.
A curious and thoughtful engineer, he is MD Anderson’s vice president for operations and facilities management. For the past 17 years, he’s led the charge of bringing to life a shared vision among MD Anderson leaders. In that time, Daigneau and his team have grown the institution from 3.5 to 14 million square feet of clinical, research and administrative space.
Discovery was borne of a simple question. In 2000, institutional leaders asked if Daigneau could build a new outpatient facility in three to four years.
“I said, ‘If you tell me who and what will be in it, we can do it.’ But they weren’t prepared to answer that question,” Daigneau says. “So we had to find a way to initiate design and construction while they decided which clinical programs would occupy the new building.”
To tackle the challenge, Daigneau and his team applied a construction approach never used for a major clinical facility in the United States — design-build. In a typical project, an architect is hired to design a building. Then a construction contractor is hired to build it. But in design-build, the construction contractor hires, and works closely with, the architect from the beginning.
“Nobody was using design-build for this kind of project. At the time, it was a real leap of faith,” Daigneau says.
It was faith well placed. The 1.2 million-square-foot Lowry and Peggy Mays Clinic broke ground in 2001 and opened in 2004. Today, the method is used across the country for all types of medical facilities, thanks to the innovation of Daigneau and his team.
Building the perfect kitchen
But beyond the method is the result.
To Daigneau, a facility is a success only if it meets the objectives set out at the onset of the project. It also must be reliable and flexible to meet current and future needs.
He says the challenge is akin to designing a kitchen.
“Have you ever had a kitchen you hated? Then you redesign it for the way you live, and, suddenly, it’s a pleasure to be in. It’s the perfect kitchen.”
That’s Daigneau’s goal: to design and provide spaces that meet the needs of MD Anderson’s employees, patients and visitors.
Walk, talk and learn
To determine those needs, Daigneau and his team visit other research and medical institutions to learn what has and hasn’t worked. They attend conferences to exchange ideas with industry leaders. Most important, they engage their customers — the faculty members, employees and patients who’ll use the spaces.
When it all comes together, the result often is an award-winning facility. The Albert B. and Margaret M. Alkek Hospital expansion, which added nine floors to an existing hospital tower, has earned accolades. In October 2011, the project received the Engineering News-Record Texas and Louisiana Overall Best Project award.
And they never stop. Daigneau and his team ask employees what they think of their new spaces. Through focus groups and surveys, they find out what patients and visitors think of MD Anderson’s facilities. All the feedback helps them design the next project.
Common ground inside
One idea has gained ground in all new MD Anderson facilities: open spaces and shared conversation areas. The George and Cynthia Mitchell Basic Sciences Research Building, a 486,000-square-foot research facility that opened in December 2005, was the first MD Anderson research facility to feature open labs.
Today, from South Campus Research Building IV (opened in January 2011) to Mid Campus Building 1 (opened in June 2011), all of MD Anderson’s newest structures feature flexible, wide-open spaces, natural light and collaboration areas.
The shift in design reflects a shift in philosophy to encourage dialogue among employees. And the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Building for Personalized Cancer Care, which broke ground in November 2011, continues that philosophy.
“Open labs and offices allow employees to talk and share ideas,” says Joe Savala, associate vice president in the Division of Operations and Facilities Management. “It’s all about collaboration.”
A light in the desert
MD Anderson’s collaborative spirit goes far beyond the Houston campus. When the institution partnered with Banner Health to launch Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Arizona, the team shared MD Anderson’s facility knowledge with Banner.
“Banner had built hospitals and medical office buildings, but never an outpatient facility,” says Susan Lipka, associate vice president for Capital Planning and Management in the Division of Operations and Facilities Management. “And we were building an outpatient facility specifically for cancer patients.”
For more than a year, Lipka and Janet Sisolak, project director in Capital Planning and Management, flew to Arizona once a month to work with Banner. And from day one, it was a great partnership — not only in construction, but also in culture.
Each of these facilities is the physical expression of a vision, Daigneau says, but flexible enough to remain viable for 30 to 50 years and longer.