When Chris Hoal joined Gresham Smith’s Nashville office in 2012, his talent and passion for design soon became evident through his work as a project designer. Gresham Smith leaders recognized his contributions and tagged him to become a studio design leader at the firm. In that role, Chris has worked to elevate design—both within the Healthcare market and firmwide. Since then, Chris has helped a new generation of design teams deliver award-winning projects that have received local and regional recognition. In 2023, Chris was named as the Healthcare market design leader and became a senior associate at Gresham Smith.

Born in Syracuse, New York, Chris enjoyed making things from a young age and credits his dad with cultivating an interest in how the “pieces fit together.” During high school, he set his sights on becoming an artist and ultimately earned a full scholarship to the Memphis College of Art. Rather than attending the art college, however, Chris applied to the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University. The reason, as Chris explains, was that he took his father’s advice to heart—that he would be better served pursuing a profession that combined the qualities and creativity of art with the structure of a more organized industry.

“My dad had a huge hand in shaping where I ended up in life,” says Chris. “I can still picture those Sunday mornings where he’d drag me out of bed to tackle household projects together. Whether we were painting all the windows, hanging a new door, or building a pergola in the backyard, those moments stuck with me. When I reflect on it now, it was more than child labor or father-son bonding moments; he was teaching me skills I would need later. He had the same insight when I wanted to become an artist and gave me the nudge to go to architecture school. I’m so grateful I did. There’s no chance I could have made a living as an artist!”

Chris first learned about Gresham Smith at a university career fair during his fourth year of architecture school. He was excited to be hired as a summer intern, and following his graduation from MSU with a Bachelor of Architecture degree, transitioned into a full-time role as project coordinator in the firm’s Healthcare market.

That same year, Chris hit the ground running at the Nashville Healthcare Studio, designing significant parts of HCA’s StoneSprings Hospital Center in Dulles, Virginia—his first major project for the firm. A few years later, he embarked on yet another steppingstone project as project design leader for UP Health System – Marquette, a 600,000-square-foot replacement hospital in Marquette, Michigan.

“UP Health System – Marquette is the project that helped me fall in love with healthcare design,” says Chris. “It became a defining moment in my career and opened my eyes to the profound impact that design can have on a community and people’s lives beyond the creation of functional spaces.”

From orienting the building towards the city’s iconic Lower Harbor Ore Dock to drawing colors and textures from the surrounding environment, the team designed the hospital to honor the Marquette community’s historic past.

Chris’ passion for designing places and spaces that positively impact community well-being was realized through his contributions as project designer and architect for The Nashville Food Project headquarters.

“This project meant a lot to our entire team because of the Nashville Food Project’s mission to grow,” says Chris. “We conceived a new design typology with them—part commercial kitchen, part office, and part community dining. The building also had to represent the neighborhood and integrate into it, creating a whole new space that would redefine and help establish a new trajectory for the community. I’m proud that our solution puts the heart and the soul of the organization on display in every facet of the design.”

“Chris is infinitely more interested in the process of design and how it can empower and connect communities than he is ‘hung up’ on the tools or delivery of design,” notes Brent Hughes, vice president in the firm’s Healthcare market. “This is evidenced in a ‘Design the Process, Process the Design’ methodology that Chris developed with a colleague, and ultimately led to the further evolution of Gresham Smith’s firmwide design approach.”

At Kaiser Permanente’s Lutherville-Timonium Medical Center, a rust-colored steel wrap nods to Baltimore’s industrial history, while the taller tower uses large expanses of glass and modern fins to reference the city’s technology-fueled future

From his involvement in community-changing projects like UP Health System – Marquette, The Nashville Food Project headquarters, and his more recent work as design leader for the LEED-Gold certified Kaiser Permanente Lutherville-Timonium Medical Center in Maryland, one enduring element has consistently characterized Chris’ career at Gresham Smith: his devotion to both the art and process of design.

“I’ve always been fascinated with how people go from a blank sheet of paper to embarking on the creative design process. Without a doubt, it’s led me to where I am today in my new role as Healthcare market design leader,” says Chris. “My responsibility now is to help build a common design language and design process across our markets so we can elevate the way we talk to each other as well as our clients.

“I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had such wonderful mentors at the firm and in my life. I credit them with everything because they encouraged me to chart my own path. My goal is to be the same kind of role model and leader at Gresham Smith that my mentors were for me—someone who creates opportunities for others and guides them on their career pathway so they can grow not only as designers, but also as people.”

My goal is to be the same kind of role model and leader at Gresham Smith that my mentors were for me. Chris Hoal Healthcare Market Design Leader, Gresham Smith

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