Melbourne-based researcher Michaela Sheahan has been awarded a $14,000 NAWIC scholarship to explore how healthcare institutions across the globe align with other knowledge precincts in an urban setting.

Sheahan was awarded the 2014 National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) International Women’s Day Scholarship – an initiative that provides funding for a research paper that challenges existing industry thinking and outlines practical recommendations to enhance the Australian property and construction industry.

NAWIC scholarship winner Michaela Sheahan

NAWIC scholarship winner Michaela Sheahan

The NAWIC scholarship is now in its sixth year, and NAWIC national vice president Gesa Ruge said the proposals this year included a wide range of ambitious research subjects.

The scholarship is funded by design company Corporate Culture and will see Sheahan embark on a year-long study entitled Care, Connectivity, Collaboration: Urban design for interaction in hospital precincts – an international perspective.

The judges were impressed with the scope of Sheahan’s proposed research. She will examine design in leading hospital precincts in the world and how connections within and between institutions enable collaboration, innovation and activity.

“I am very fortunate to be one of the few researchers working within a design firm in Australia,” Sheahan said in a statement. “Research in design is largely confined to academia, so this scholarship provides with an opportunity to demonstrate to a wide audience the value of research in practice and evidence-based design.”

Massachusetts Knowledge Clusters, Boston

Massachusetts Knowledge Clusters, Boston

“The judges agreed that the research has the potential to identify improvements in the way hospital precincts are designed and constructed in Australia,” added Richard Munao of Corporate Culture.

Sheahan is currently a researcher in HASSELL’s Knowledge and Sustainability Unit in Melbourne and has spent the past two years predominately investigating education where her interest for an institutional angle grew.

She said the trend toward ‘knowledge clusters’ played a large role in her choice of research topic.

“The catalyst for the project is that a lot of urban planning or strategic planning documents now coming out of Australian capital cities concentrate on knowledge clusters whether they be in universities, in health or technology precincts,” she said. “As they’re quite important in planning documents I’m looking for crossovers in these sort of large sense institutions and urban planning.”

One Nucleus Cambridge, UK

One Nucleus Cambridge, UK

Sheahan began conducting her research in recent months, investigating some of the world’s leading institutions in medical precincts.

“I’m not only looking at hospitals but I’m looking at hospitals that are co-located with educational institutions, research facilities or healthcare manufacturing centres,” she said.

Sheahan has already uncovered a number of these buildings in the Boston, Toronto, Texas and in Europe. She notes that there are benchmark projects across the UK, particularly in London and Manchester.

“While London is very established and a well regarded health city, Manchester is considered an emerging health city,” she said. “Their city strategic planning is focusing on investment on health manufacturing and health research.”

The people and organisations behind these precincts will be Sheahan’s main sources throughout her research study. She aims to contact those involved in the sites’ overall planning to organise interviews and perform site visits.

Sheahan believes Australia is fairly well placed to deliver collaborative institutions and is looking forward to identifying any lessons the country can gain from its international counterparts.

Exploring knowledge clusters

Exploring knowledge clusters in urban settings

“Highly developed cities and wealthy cities offer great infrastructure and government support for those types of institutions so Australia is well placed because we are a wealthy country,” she said.

She cites Melbourne’s Parkville precinct and the Monash Science Technology Research and Innovation Precinct (STRIP) precinct as institutional benchmarks, along with emerging areas such as outer Latrobe in Bundoora and the Sunshine area across the west of Melbourne.

“Melbourne is highly regarded in this respect along with Brisbane and Adelaide,” she said.

She is keen to visit Herston Health Precinct in Brisbane, a project by HASSELL that will combine the Royal Brisbane Women’s and Children’s Hospital, University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, The Queensland Institute of Medical Research and The University of Queensland’s School of Medicine.

Over in Adelaide, Sheahan, will look into the recently opened South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), which is the first stage of a larger medical precinct for the city that will also be home to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Monash Science Technology Research and Innovation Precinct

Monash Science Technology Research and Innovation Precinct (STRIP)

She also sees cities that base their urban planning around a knowledge cluster, combining technology, science, health and education, as a growing trend.

Beyond the collaborative benefits and connection of clinical environments, Sheahan believes these clusters are good for cities in general.

“It’s a very common tool for economic development now and for cities looking to gain competitive advantage,” she said. “There is a lot of references in city planning documents (projecting) these sort of knowledge clusters and there is certainly a lot of research on the individual building scale of innovation and collaboration within buildings.”

While Sheahan will be looking at the urban design rather than patient healthcare, she has also observed an array of healthcare design trends, including day lighting studies, access to open space, gardens and views for patients.

Herston Health Precinct

Herston Health Precinct

She has the support of  HASSELL, where she will continue to work part-time while she completes her research.

“This is fantastic and a well-deserved opportunity for Michaela,” said Brett Pollard, HASSELL head of knowledge and sustainability. “It will allow her to further explore a highly relevant topic. The result will be practical, impactful research for the benefit of the healthcare sector and the wider property and construction industry.”

Overall, Sheahan calls her research a “fact-finding” venture which she feels will generate ideas and explore just how these buildings are linked to best maximise collaboration between institutions on a city scale.