Kyleen Rockwell, AIA
Building Performance Engineer

As part of our ongoing efforts to support the architecture practice during COVID-19, AIA Colorado hosts weekly Virtual Connect events, free and open to AIA members. On May 7, the Academy of Architecture for Health Knowledge Community convened to discuss design’s response to the current pandemic. Here, AIA Colorado member Kyleen Rockwell, AIA, shares her takeaways from the event on the future of healthcare design.

On Community and Culture

A large focus today is on the community of clinical workers and keeping healthcare providers safe. As we look to other cultures/countries that are leading in healthcare, there seems to be success in a unified, government-lead approach in conjunction with a unified, community-based approach. This herd mentality response generally creates a more successful approach to flatten the curve than a patchwork of responses across a country.

An interesting discussion focusing on cleanliness culture brought up how more people are practicing the standard handwashing practices that were always recommended for better hygiene and health. The hope is that this will create better habits even when the pandemic stops spreading. How can design and signage promote and maintain better hygiene practices? Will we see handwashing vestibules to enter a building or an uptick in pubic mask-wearing even if there is no pandemic? Many Asian cultures already wear masks as the norm to combat air pollution or prevent colds/flu from spreading.


On the Future of Healthcare

In responding to how hospitals can be flexible to meet the demand for more beds during a pandemic, we are seeing that as elective surgeries are not being performed, entire departments and wings of hospitals are freed up to support additional patients. Traditionally, these wings would require major modifications to meet healthcare guidelines for proper patient care. In the future, we may see every private patient room being able to handle two patients via a dual-head wall system, emergency department corridors being redesigned to handle patient overload/care, and the concept of entire infectious disease units  negatively pressurized rather than just individual rooms. Hospitals will feel the pressure for developing facility and operational changes to reflect emergency preparedness plans now more than ever.


On Access 

While more urban and affluent communities can still access healthcare via telehealth (virtual means), we have identified that rural and lower income households do not have equal access. This not only is seen in healthcare, but also translates directly to education and professionals who must work from home. Access to a reliable internet bandwidth starts to dig into the community infrastructure. We are seeing community donation drives provide technological equipment (laptops, keyboards, etc.) to those without and internet providers creating community internet hubs.

Our healthcare designers are seeing trending improvements in the decision makers in healthcare becoming more diverse and representative of the community demographics. Understanding that patients will be coming from a range of backgrounds is critical to design. This could mean patients who are more anxious than others, have mental or physical handicaps, those with differing levels of ease with technology, and those have varying cultural and religious practices that may impact care.


On Equity, Diversity, and Inclusiveness

Personal, protective equipment has traditionally been designed for men rather than a gendered population. Females are failing fit tests at a much higher rate than men.

Mask wearing can illicit unconscious or conscious reactions. Seeing an African American or Hispanic person in a mask at the store may prompt a different response than seeing a white person in a mask at the store.

A more equitable society is a healthier society. This will improve resiliency during future pandemics—not to mention climate change and material health.


Visit the AIA Colorado calendar to attend future Virtual Connect events.