HCD Rising Star: Brian Schaller

Brian Schaller, AIA, NCARB, Senior Project Designer, HDR (Los Angeles)

Brian Schaller joined the New York City office of HDR in 2012, and then moved to the Los Angeles office in 2014, where he worked for a couple of years before leaving to join a smaller company. This experience gave him the opportunity to work on projects with a faster turnaround time and thus learn more about the different phases and construction management. But she wanted to realign her career back toward healthcare, where she appreciated how design efforts can have a major impact on patient outcomes.

He returned to the HDR Los Angeles studio in 2017 and has quickly become one of the firm’s key design leaders.

During that time, he has contributed heavily to key projects for HDR, including a Health care between mountains medical clinic in Las Vegas and the Helen Diller Medical Center of the University of California, San Francisco in Parnassus Heights, San Francisco. Currently, she is leading the design of the Wasatch Canyon Behavioral Health Hospital for elementary school children in Salt Lake City. Working at this pediatric behavioral health center required sensitivity to the unique needs of children on the neurodiversity spectrum.

Schaller’s approach has led to innovative solutions, such as a design feature that uses framed window openings following the “ROYGBIV” order that dances along the facades in a wavy pattern. This approach not only adds a visually appealing element to the design, but also serves a functional purpose by providing an intuitive pattern.

Reducing randomness in the design helps minimize potential negative stimulation for patients who may find chaotic or unpredictable environments distressing. Instead, it creates a welcoming, non-intimidating environment for all pediatric patients on the neurodiversity spectrum and their families. This has involved a deep understanding of how children perceive and interact with their environment, and the result is an accessible, relaxing and supportive space.

It has also become a trusted and leading partner for healthcare projects, bringing creativity and innovation to help clients better understand design ideas and make important decisions. For example, during the Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital replacement project in Marina del Rey, California, he saw an opportunity to use architectural animations to advance the hospital’s design. Typically, animations are a final design that is delivered once the work is completed. Here, he realized the impact animations would have for the client and the opportunity they provided to help clients make difficult decisions.

Outside of the office, he is active in the AIA LA Chapter and its healthcare group, the nonprofit Build Out Alliance, the USGBC-LA Building Decarbonization Committee, and is an organizer of the annual Care Design Forum Medical in downtown Los Angeles. Finally, Schaller was also a key member of the BIONICA team, the future concept that he won Sanitary design‘s 2022 Breaking Through, which challenged people to think beyond what is currently possible.

Through his work, Schaller is making an impact by contributing ideas that ask clients to think differently and try new approaches and concepts, helping advance the healthcare design industry.

Path to healthcare design: My journey began with my university thesis on healing architectural environments. I was fascinated to delve into creating spaces for people in their most vulnerable state. It is intriguing how the spaces exert the potential to facilitate healing, while maintaining a simple presence. How design covertly contributes to the healing process is a captivating area that I am committed to unraveling and exploring.

Describe your design approach: Sculpting spaces for healing: where design is also medicine.

On your desktop now: I am currently immersed in a pediatric behavioral health project outside of Salt Lake City. Growing up, I helped my now-retired teacher mother with her summer teaching programs, becoming deeply involved with children and gaining valuable information about the way they perceive the world. Balancing fantasy and practicality, I am on a mission to channel the imagination while fostering the well-being of the diverse patients who will experience this campus. It is a design with a touch of joy and a great impact.

Most rewarding project to date: A highlight of our career was the Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital project in Marina del Rey, California. Amid the complexities of a site adjacent to the hospital it replaced, we delight in orchestrating elegance within extreme complexity. Imagine a fully functioning hospital, packed with ambulances, surgical and imaging services, running smoothly just meters from the construction site of its replacement tower. This complex project required meticulous planning, unwavering safety measures, and a deep commitment to patient care. The result? A design that perfectly harmonized innovation and necessity, with the new tower’s exterior resembling a calm ocean wave, enhancing the hospital’s healing environment. Proud doesn’t begin to cover it.

What success means to you: Success in healthcare design occurs when every hallway you walk down and every room you enter evokes a feeling of serenity. This is when architecture takes a backseat, letting healing and hope take center stage. Imagine if our designs had reviews on Yelp: five stars for calm, tranquility, and a touch of magic. That is the success I look for in each project, creating places where well-being and design go hand in hand and dance.

Industry challenge on your radar: Next year, I’m interested in our industry embracing adaptive spaces. Let’s make rooms as versatile as a Swiss army knife, ensuring they effortlessly meet changing needs. Taking into account the evolution of technology, artificial intelligence, environmental changes and global changes, the imperative remains: our designs must inherently prioritize adaptability. A space that can go from an exam room to a meditation oasis? That’s the magic of design worth mastering.

Must-have skill for today’s healthcare designers: Today we must exercise the art of empathy as our superpower. Understanding the patient journey is not just about blueprints; it’s about creating spaces that whisper healing—that’s the universal language every healthcare designer should master. I deeply appreciate having a partner like my husband, whose strong reminders of the importance of our industry’s work constantly guide me toward a broader perspective. and reinforce the reasons behind our daily efforts, ultimately improving my capacity for empathy as an architect.

For more information on HCD’s rising stars of 2023, read here.

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