2022 Associates Award
The AIA Associates Award is given to individual Associate AIA members to recognize outstanding leaders and creative thinkers for significant contributions to their communities and the architecture profession.
Standing at the intersection of health, resilience, and advocacy, Emily McGee, Assoc. AIA, leverages architecture to make a tangible difference in the lives of those she designs for. Throughout her young career as a health care designer and medical planner, McGee’s skills are always used to serve others in support of projects that have demonstrably improved health outcomes and affected policy.
“Emily connects community, formulates resilient design solutions, and ultimately fosters dignity for the patients, families, and staff she designs for,” wrote Brenna Costello, AIA, in a letter nominating McGee for the Associates Award. “Speaking as the current 2021 President of AIA Academy of Architecture and Health, Emily exhibits the very best of the next generation of leaders in the health care design industry and has already displayed significant impact on the profession.”
Since joining HOK’s Washington, D.C., office in 2017, McGee has proven to be an integral part of the firm’s health care design practice. Her contributions have improved health care access for underserved communities across the U.S., and her background in global health care design has allowed her to use design thinking to create inclusive healing environments. In her role, she often engages with patients, staff, and community representatives, leading her to advocate for a design process that uplifts key voices by focusing on local knowledge and creativity.
McGee’s patient-first approach was crucial in the design of The UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation Tower, which serves the Pittsburgh region’s visually impaired and rehabilitative patient populations. She collaborated with Chris Downey, AIA, a practicing architect who lost his sight in 2008, to translate the complex needs of users into a building that thoughtfully addresses the patient experience at all scales.
McGee’s unique outlook was shaped by a number of transformative global design experiences that demonstrated the impact good design can make on global health equity. In 2010, she traveled to 30 different countries carrying a 90-liter backpack as a participant in Ball State College of Architecture and Planning’s Polyark World Tour program. In 2016, she was awarded a Global Health Corps fellowship and worked with nonprofit firm MASS Design Group in Kigali, Rwanda. There she worked with the country’s Ministry of Health to formalize its national health care infrastructure guidelines, which eventually led to the design and construction of two prototype hospitals.
“On our design team, we see Emily as the ‘conscience’ of the project, constantly campaigning for dignity and community outreach. Her energy, combined with her quickly strengthening influence in the firm, is driving our projects to a higher level of social awareness,” - HOK’s Global Healthcare Director T. Scott Rawlings, AIA.
“Over the span of her career, she will foster significant change in how we design for, and view, social equity in health care delivery, of that I am sure, and she will be a major contributor to our profession’s continued position as a critically important part of our society.”
A strong interest and background in visual art, history, and theater design led McGee to pursue a dual degree in architecture and visual communications during her undergraduate studies at Ball State University. As an artist, McGee constantly explores and records her travels and space interpretations in her sketchbooks. As a student, she traveled to Turkey’s Manisa Province to sketch and survey the archeological exploration of the ancient city of Sardis. She continues to refine her surveying and mapping skills by returning to archeological digs in the summer. She maintains a role as staff architect for the exploration of Gordion, also in Turkey, through the University of Pennsylvania.
“In archaeology, it’s not just about ancient civilization, it’s about the culture and communities in which these places exist today,” wrote Troy D. Thompson, AIA, in a letter supporting McGee’s nomination. “In her pro bono projects, Emily isn’t focusing on what she contributes as a professional, but rather what she can more meaningfully understand and empathize with from all those that we impact when we design.”