Top architects and designers are experienced with change throughout the design process to reflect varying client needs. The COVID-19 pandemic will add even more design challenges in 2020 and beyond in the healthcare, education and corporate markets.

The healthcare segment is the most obvious area for change. “Anticipate and be ready,” says Derek Noble, principal at Shepley Bulfinch. Shepley, with offices in Boston, Hartford, Conn., Phoenix and Houston, wants to assist emergency departments in beefing up to create surge units in the event of future health crises. 

Where can large numbers of care providers and staff sleep in the hospital at the time of such events? Terri Frink, principal at S/L/A/M Collaborative, says that hotels may be owned by hospitals for this purpose so they can expand the bed capacity for patients and and/or staff. SLAM recently acquired Heery Design to expand their geographical reach and horsepower. Across the country, the flooring focus might need to be on hard surface flooring to allow spaces to be more readily changed. Such spaces will need to have an alternate plan to show proper circulation paths, bed layout, and how well they are ventilated. Flexibility will be key.

“What can we do to create a better environment for employees to feel safer?” asks Tom Quarticelli, principal at Amenta Emma. With offices in Boston, Hartford and New York, Amenta Emma acknowledges that the corporate environment has many concerns to ponder. Some considerations include staggering workstations, modifications such as panels and plexiglass, reduced capacity in meeting rooms, touch-free door handles, self-cleaning technology that can kill bacteria on surfaces, and the use of anti-microbial materials such as copper. Workplace protocols in place will be important to keep workspaces cleaner. Signage will also be important to help navigate the flow of people in an office as well as highlight when the space was last cleaned. Technology needs will also be important to address with clients. Video meetings and remote work will still be important. Since the “cat is out of the bag” now about the merits of working from home, more user-friendly technology will be required. 

“How do you make buildings more vibrant in the future?” Frink asked. There is a great desire to develop places people can come together safely to share ideas. We need to be able to build community in a different way while still attracting top talent. 

Education may look very different in the future, with more questions than answers. As online classes expand, how does a campus retain its relevancy? Will college campuses go to single room occupancy? Can a college dorm be built in such a way that it can be converted into a healthcare space if needed in a crisis? If so, doors would have to be wider and flooring would need to adapt to the change in purpose. K-12 systems may go back to less dense neighborhood schools where smaller, safer classrooms are the focus.

These questions provide fodder for A&D firms to work through with their clients. All three firms agreed that two key things still exist when meeting with owners. The first is to collect data on the preparation needed to get back to “normal” work and how they can assist. The second includes assessment services offered. Since one size does not fit all, “clients still want to do master plans and high-level cost estimates for budgets” Noble said. “Priorities have to be in place,” reminded Quarticelli. Only then can we really understand what our customers value.

Aside from the design challenges at this time, there are some positive outcomes that can be highlighted. Made in the USA products will be in the forefront. Many flooring manufacturers already produce materials in house, such as Armstrong, Daltile, Mannington and Roppe, to name a few.  The manufacturing community as a whole has a big opportunity to source more locally. 

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Companies can now have more confidence in their staff working remotely. Improved techniques were acquired by management on staff engagement and making sure everyone felt a sense of worth during this work from home period. Back at the office, the environment will be cleaner and healthier for its employees. According to Quarticelli at Amenta Emma, the best outcome from this pandemic is probably our awareness and appreciation for the simple things in life that we previously took for granted. Not a bad perspective overall.