COVID-19 has introduced not only risk, but also new and redefined practices across the globe. Every day, we are hammered with terminology such as work-from-home, shelter in place, self-quarantine, essential businesses, social and physical distancing and flattening the curve.
We can focus on the fear and anxiety brought on from this global pandemic, wondering when we will come back to some new normal- or do what people have always done, provide solutions to the problem. The world has faced such incredible challenges before like war, disease and natural disasters. Obviously, this global disruption will define this moment in history. For those of us in the Design and Construction industry, we may not be on the front line but can offer our ideas, creativity, empathy and support. We can accomplish much within the built environment for our fellow citizens, both economically and more importantly, for their well-being.
The trajectory of the virus differs from country to country, but the bottom line is we all need to work together to flatten the curve, so we do not overwhelm the healthcare system before a vaccine is discovered. We need to create places for isolation and self-quarantine at the same pace that the speed of this virus is spreading.
As architects, designer, engineers and planners, we do a great deal of work in the hospitality industry, including both new builds and renovation projects. As we drive along the interstate, we see our work product, and instinctively know in this economy that their great future is effectively repositioning as temporary recovery or isolation facilities for COVID-19 patients and caregivers. Accommodating people within existing hotel structures would provide individual space and necessary facilities. Repositioning these facilities will aid this sector by maintaining jobs to service the buildings; creating additional construction jobs for the conversions; but most importantly, this can give healthcare providers the time and beds to stave off the spike of severely ill patients.
Many select service hotels are well suited to accommodate the needs for these types of facilities. They typically are sited along major transportation arteries, have ample parking for queuing, and room for possible tented test areas. The buildings can easily be restructured for different uses, such as to cordon off screening, from common areas and separating required level of quarantine for people. The speed to market might be one of the most beneficial attributes for this building type, since its’ existing infrastructure elements allow repositioning within a month or two.
Proposed separation of uses within the same existing building compound.
The Purpose is Two-Fold
- The centers should be used mainly for self-isolation purposes to avoid persons at risk of exposure going back to infect family members and the community at large
- Centers have limited medical staff caring mainly for people showing non-life-threatening limited symptoms that can be contained and treated without overwhelming hospitals with patients whom are not in need of emergency treatment
Many of these facilities have existing entry areas that will provide safe and secure entry and PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) zones. Many have food service and laundry areas already built-in that can be repurposed to provide the extra needs and services for patients. Fitness center and business centers will no longer be needed for this temporary use but will provide screening areas with other storage and staff needs for the Recovery Center. The ground floor spaces have multiple entry points to accommodate the various isolation and PPE levels for different occupants. The typical floor plans can easily be demised depending on level of exposure and care needed. Typically, these facilities have individual room mechanical systems. Common area space will need to be re-engineered with proper mechanical filtration systems and power needs for this use. Depending on existing conditions and demise, one new elevator might be needed to evacuate people from the regular guest population if emergency care is required.
Proposed entry and ground floor plan for the repositioned Recovery Center.
Benefits of Repurposing Existing Hotels
- Rooms have their own bathrooms minimizing the risk of exposure
- Meals can be prepared in-house by staff and delivered to their room to avoid risk of contamination
- Laundry can be operated by staff for towels and bedsheets
- Elevators can be controlled to avoid cross contamination
Proposed typical floor plan for the repositioned Recovery Center.
- Reduce the strain on emergency rooms and hospitals
- Bring economic relief to hotel operators
- Hotel workers can come back to work in the kitchens, laundry, housekeeping and security positions
These building are regularly cycling through Property Improvement Plans (PIPs) and as part of the facility decommissioning process a full renovation and rebranding needs to be secured for property owners and hotel brands.
How will our approach and focus change in our post-pandemic new normal?
As creatives, we help to lead the move from fear to comfort. As designers and builders, we help to problem solve and come up with solutions to realize the heightened importance of good architecture and design in the built environment. We should have a new heighted appreciation for the importance of the transitions from indoor to outdoor spaces, the beauty and feelings attuned to window spaces. The importance of natural daylighting, the benefits of newer technologies, voice activation access, hygienic surfaces for ease of maintenance. Individuality will be important but the awareness of our fellow citizens and our relationship to the built environment always present.
We finish with a “quote of a quote” from the March 22, 2020 Mary Schmich Chicago Tribune Op Ed:
In the meantime, I keep hearing the words of the Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, who begins her book “When Things Fall Apart”, with one of the most insightful sentences ever written:
“This very moment is the perfect teacher.”