Perspectives January 29, 2021

10 forward-thinking design trends in hospitals today

Even more so than cultural and historical events of the past, the COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtably trigger a global transformation of healthcare design. Hospitals will evolve their operations due to the pandemic and other changing global conditions, and with new strategies will come a typological evolution in hospital design. Based on our lessons from the past, we expect to see the following 10 trends in healthcare over the coming years. Emily Bateman wraps up key takeaways from a recent presentation she prepared with Ralph Johnson and Jean Mah for the 2020 World Architecture Festival 2020 WAFVirtual Conference.
Tropicarium, E. Todd Wheeler Concept Rendering
To watch the full presentation, scroll to the bottom of this post.
For more than a century, we have seen paradigm shifts and pivots in healthcare and the concept of the hospital as a typology. Going back to the 1800’s, sanitation and hygiene were recognized as being beneficial to overall health. The flu pandemic of 1918 brought recognition of the importance of light and ventilation.  Le Corbusier and the International school drove forward the machine aesthetic in architecture.  In reaction to that, Alvar Aalto’s Paimio Sanitarium for tuberculosis emphasized the role a building can play in the healing process, with the building acting as a ‘medical instrument’. In the 1940’s architect Charles Neergaard rejected the concept of natural ventilation and daylight as representative of health and proposed a hospital with windowless inpatient rooms. Through the 1950’s, we saw a transition towards more enclosed building with integration of HVAC environmental controls, which further removed the humanity from the environment.  In the 1960’s, Le Corbusier proposed the “New Venice Hospital” reintegrating light through venetian square or courtyards and skylights.  In the 1970’s E. Todd Wheeler even imagined a Tropicarium, or tent hospital made of tree-like structures served by drones, as a way to return to nature –which in the current atmosphere of COVID alternate care facilities may not be so unrealistic.  In recent years we have seen a return to biophilia and natural environments.


Now, as we look ahead, here are the key trends in healthcare we expect to see:
1. Resilience

The healthcare industry was one of the first markets to embrace resilience and RELi rating system.  COVID-19 has further reinforced the importance of resilience in hospitals. The Rush University Medical Center Tower, which opened in 2012, is a perfect example. The building, which was designed in the aftermath of 9/11 for bioterrorism events and pandemics, was readily converted to accommodate surge capacity and negative pressure patient treatment areas in the early days of the COVID 19 pandemic.

2. Evidence Based Research

As data becomes more accessible and institutions continue to weigh the value of design decisions, we expect to see an expansion in the use of evidence-based design (EBD) and data in healthcare. Such research and neuro-architecture principles, along with input from a Patient and Family Advisory committee, were used as guideposts throughout the design and construction of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute, ensuring each decision was made to support the unique patient population served in the building.

3. Global Merging with Local

With the continued globalization of healthcare, we expect to see merging of local culture, conditions, and building methodologies with the advanced care, high safety standard and cutting-edge medical planning across the world. There are lessons to be learned from all countries and cultures. In the era of COVID, Singapore’s open-air inpatient units and outdoor spaces could be a well-tested solution to our ventilation concerns surrounding airborne diseases, where the climate allows it.

4. Community Health

Leading up to the pandemic, there was an increased focus on prevention and holistic wellness, with healthcare institutions investing in facilities like the Piedmont Wellness Center in Fayetteville, GA. This state-of-the-art facility offers fitness and sports training, nutritional counseling, and outpatient rehab services all surrounded by hiking trails dotted with art installations.  The COVID pandemic has certainly turned the $4.5 trillion wellness industry on its head, but we expect to see the continued growth of community health and wellness, just in new ways and locations

5. Integrated Science & Research

January 21, 2020 was the first reported case of coronavirus in the US. Just under 11 months later, on December 14, 2020, the first vaccine was administered. Our lesson? The often life and death importance of integrated science and research in medicine. We’re hopeful that COVID will serve as a catalyst for expansion of translational medicine and research.

6. Staff Shortages

Even before COVID, we were experiencing worldwide healthcare staffing shortages.  have shown that by 2030, 23 of 50 states will have critical shortages of physicians, with 30 states facing nursing shortages. After a decade’s long focus on patient experience, experiential design can be expected to expand its focus to creating staff spaces that support recruitment and retention.  Robotics and A.I. may be expanded to supplement staff and help to reduce transmission of infection in case of future pandemics.

7. Technology-Driven

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace – bionics, robots to clean hospitals and lift patients, and microchip implants, to name a few, are all now a reality.  The impact of more yet-to-be-discovered technologies is a mystery to us all.

COVID forced the implementation of telehealth far faster than may have happened otherwise, but we think it is here to stay.

8. Biophilia

To complement this technology-driven culture, we’re witnessing a resurgence of nature and biophilia in healthcare spaces.  While not quite the open-air natural environment that E. Todd Wheeler dreamed of with his Tropicarium, The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford seamlessly links gardens and terraces with clinical spaces – providing a natural, healing environment for patients and staff alike.

9. Immediate & Connected

According to Scripps Health, adults spend an average of 11 hours a day staring at a screen.  Healthcare is not immune to this reliance on immediate access and the internet of things. We expect to see continued growth of wearable technology, access to providers and medical records, and connectivity between personal health data and healthcare.

10. Cleanable but Beautiful

While infection control is not a new concept, COVID has made us hyper aware of the materials we select for all spaces, be they healthcare or not. The University of Virginia Health System’s Hospital Expansion Project in Charlottesville, VA, is a perfect example. The lobby, with its light-colored wood ceiling and warm white floors and walls, isn’t just beautiful, it’s also functional as overflow for the ED, and features cleanable, durable materials.

Watch the full presentation
Jean Mah and Ralph Johnson discuss the historical evolution of the modern hospital, the current state of the art of hospital design with case studies from their current work, and how the hospital typology might continue to evolve in the future.
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