Hospital Corridor showing Way Marks

Healthcare Design for Pandemics

By Liz Rubin, Interior Architect, Cowan Architects

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought home to us many issues over the past few months and none more so than our need for a safe, clean and flexible hospital environment. Despite the fact that we have seen the death rates from seasonal influenza increase year on year, it has taken a global pandemic to wake us up to the need for ‘more’ – more bed spaces, more medically trained staff, more equipment and more drugs.  The NHS was already stretched far beyond the last hole on its belt and is now past stretched seams.

At Cowan Architects we have some ideas on how to improve current facilities and what to consider when designing new hospital and clinics.

We undertake a range of schemes from small ward refurbishments up to large community hospitals and although every project is different, each integrates common design principles that are key to a healthy and safe, healing environment including way-finding and flexible spaces.

Way-finding that goes far beyond directional signage

It is key to enable the users of healthcare buildings to get from A to B as quickly and safely as possible, with minimal disruption and diversions.

In light of the pandemic, and considering seasonal flu, we now need to consider the ability to segregate staff and patient/visitor circulation. We need to be able to isolate those who are potentially highly infectious from those with routine appointments and ensure that these routine appointments can still go ahead safely.

Although signage is key to ensure patients/visitors (and even staff) can efficiently and calmly reach their destination, the most successful way-finding is subliminal and integral to the whole hospital design.  The entrances must be obvious. Spine circulation must be wide and clear. There should be visual cues to the outside world and ‘landmarks’. These can be courtyard spaces and gardens, views to sculptures or other design features. Signage can use colour coding and images or symbols in order to include those who do not speak English. Some hospitals start the way-finding process with the appointment letter and give patients very clear instructions on how to get to their appointment.

In hospital refurbishments, it may sometimes be that a level of minimal design work, combined with a comprehensive signage system, will efficiently assist building users.

Infection Control and Flexible Spaces

One-way circulation systems and additional triage spaces will also be important to minimise the spread of viruses.

Some hospitals have already responded to their previous experience of pandemics (SARS) by increasing the amount of flexible space within the facility, providing support spaces that are equipped with the relevant services to enable them to convert into valuable bed space.

If there were a need for the construction of large, versatile spaces within an expedient time-frame, Cowan Architects may have the answer having designed several schemes (in leisure and education projects) with an innovative Sprung structure that uses advanced, fabric tensile structures engineered to allow total design flexibility, all-weather performance, strength, long-term quality and cost-effectiveness. They could easily be applied to healthcare environments and be a ready, cost-effective solution for the next influx of winter viruses.

Anti-Microbial Materials

As healthcare designers, we often advise clients to consider using anti-microbial materials.   It is important to remember that a stringent cleaning regime should always still be used but evidence shows that most germs are killed on contact with these specially coated surfaces. This tool can be adopted in smaller buildings like care homes, where any additional help with infection control could be a life saver.

Our team has a wealth of experience within the healthcare, residential care and education sectors. Please get in touch if you wish to apply our knowledge and discuss a potential project.

Liz Rubin Cowan Architects

Liz Rubin