Healthcare is an ever-growing market. And with a large portion of the American population entering their Baby Boomer years, the evolving demand and function of healthcare facilities is becoming even more important to keep in mind when planning for projects such as hospitals.
Health facility planner for McKahan Planning Group Don McKahan, AIA, FACHA, recently spoke with Contract magazine to discuss his upcoming Feb. 18 Webinar, “ How the ICONS Have Fared: Mega-Hospitals with Major Dreams,” which will highlight via case study several iconic hospital designs over the last five years, and share with us his views on today’s trends and future challenges for architects and designers.
What is it that makes a design successful in the healthcare industry and really makes these case studies stand out?
Well, we go to these case studies because they were highly touted when they came out, people had great interest in them. We’ve learned over time a couple of overarching truisms. One is that there is sort of a big difference between unique and truly useful design ideas. There are things that we see that turn out to be eye-catching, but not even two years later people have already forgotten about them because they’re not playing a role. Others that come about end up having lasting consequences and set the stage for whole new ideas and archetypes in healthcare design. Five years later, we can sort and sift what was just a pretty picture and what was a game-changing design for a healthcare facility.
What are some of the more innovative and unique designs that you have seen come about in the last couple of years, in terms of products and overall design trends?
In the Webinar, we will be focusing in these projects on the ability to create a backbone, or an armature, for a building, which allows the building to not just be flexible but expand in a logical way. It’s the spine on which future buildings are going to be laid out and designed to, and several of these projects have already gone on to add major additions to them.
This wasn’t always a common aspect in healthcare design. In the 60s and 70s, people just went off to build standalone buildings, but these days we’ve come to realize that these projects are 50- to 60-year investments and they need to dovetail into a larger campus plan. Just doing a standalone project just doesn’t work anymore. The ones who are most successful are the ones who know where the next two or three additions are going to go.
Today, we’re all getting older, and the population and the demand for healthcare services is going to continue to increase. We’ve been in catch-up mode for the last 10 years for a lot of hospital-based healthcare services. We all got caught up in the outpatient rush, and a lot of nursing units got very ancient and are needing to be rebuilt—particularly the semi-private patient rooms, which are all being replaced with private rooms. There’s more emphasis on hospital based nursing units than there has been in the last 10 years.
What about patient-centered care? How is that influencing design?
It was definitely something new about 10 years ago, and now it’s the backdrop of practically everything that goes on in these projects. Take, for instance, the MD Anderson Cancer Center we’re looking at in the Webinar (pictured left). The whole first floor is given over to patient support services. Things that 20 years ago we would never actually think about putting into a hospital—like a boutique appearance center, on-site childcare services, a concierge to get them into massage therapy or yoga—are features that are becoming more standard and overlaid on top of the clinical services that have to be there.
What kind of risks do designers face when trying to push the limits on these new trends and incorporate all the new technology that hospitals have today?
I think the biggest problem that we’ve seen is that people get an idea about a project and they want to do a design based on a retail concept, or something that looks like hospitality, or something that’s education-based. They get locked into that and there’s no getting out of it when the cultures or the strategies for care change over time. Things change rapidly, so the concept of universality and creating a space—an emergency room, cancer center, anything—that can merge and swing to incorporate the new technologies is critical.
The greatest risk is not thinking far enough down the road that these buildings do last 50 years and that things may change from what they had envisioned. We like to say that no one ever gets it exactly right the first time so you got to count on change occurring after that.
Where do you see healthcare design going over the next five to 10 years? Or is it too difficult to predict?
It’s hard. It’s incredibly diverse though. What we have witnessed in many of these iconic, groundbreaking hospitals is the adaptation of a whole series of other building types to healthcare. We have hospitals that, when you hear the vocabulary, sound more like shopping malls—such as, “one-stop care.” We have hospitals that are based on the Greek healing temples and are more like religious facilities in their approach. We have other hospitals that are really focused on the hospitality side of things. They are birthing centers and spa-like atmospheres. Designers and architects at the onset know they are doing a healthcare facility but they reach out to other building types as a means of providing a design strategy that will work for the kind of care desired or the culture of the organization they are designing to.
You used to be able to recognize what hospital looked like from the skyline and today you cant do it because there’s so much diversity in the basic design concepts. And I expect to continue to see that.