July 2020 - Sachse Construction

Suburban Garden-Style Apartments Will Be the Future of the Multifamily Sector

Long-term success in portfolio building is a function of agility. We’re seeing where the market is headed and anticipating where we’ll see the greatest demand and most manageable risk.

As the commercial real estate market shifts away from retail, it’s imperative to pivot toward asset classes that will endure and thrive in the post-COVID-19 marketplace. Moreover, it’s essential to look through the curve and lean toward where there are opportunities to create the most value.

While many investors wait on the sidelines, now is the time to be aggressive in buying vintage multifamily. There’s going to be a significant shift towards these garden-style communities as they offer more opportunities for social distancing with open space, lower density, and outdoor access, as well as greater air circulation compared to high-rises with closed hallways and elevators.

What is a ‘garden-style’ apartment asset and why are they undervalued?

A ‘garden-style’ community is one that features exterior access, landscaped grounds, and common outdoor areas for tenants. The structures are generally limited to four stories and feature single-story units with several to a floor. These multifamily properties typically don’t have elevators, and each unit has an entrance off a breezeway or the exterior of the building.

Some of the best investment opportunities are vintage multifamily assets. Many class-B and class-C communities that were built decades ago represent perfect value-add potential. These assets typically have some deferred maintenance, need interior and exterior updates, and lack modern amenities—those which will yield much higher demand, more stable occupancy, and improved NOI.

Additionally, these communities are often close to both professional and manufacturing jobs, schools, retail, and other drivers of value. The rental rates for these apartments are also generally lower than for class-A urban properties, which is crucial given the high unemployment rates and uncertainty in the job markets.

What else about garden-style apartments makes them appealing?

Many young professionals, particularly millennials, are sticking with renting to avoid the risk of foreclosure in the uncertain economic future due to the pandemic.

Younger renters in burgeoning local economies, such as Austin, Texas, are well-diversified and looking for the greatest value in their living spaces. We’ve found success by finding apartment communities near large developments where we can provide a quality living experience and better value to our end users. By improving amenities and bringing interiors up to class-A standards, we’re able to create hip, appealing spaces at a lower price point, and that’s what truly fuels long-term value creation.

Why ‘garden-style’ makes sense post pandemic

Aside from economic considerations, garden-style makes sense from a health perspective. Recovery post-pandemic for landlords of all classes is contingent on meeting users’ needs and expectations with respect to best health practices. As many jobs move away from the central business district, as we see in Austin, with many tech firms developing in the suburbs, residents are finding high-quality, lower-priced living options that are close to work. This helps users avoid the necessity of public transportation—a health concern for many. And, for those that are now working remotely, it’s an opportunity to have a class-A office without the price tag and where they can still get some decent food delivered.

And since we’re all sensibly wary of elevators and indoor common areas, vintage multifamily eliminates these issues and provides an overall more pleasant living experience in a natural setting. Suburban communities in particular offer many class-B and -C properties with excellent natural views backing up to forest and/or creek.

Why vintage multifamily is attractive to landlords and investors

These properties are attractive to investors as many apartment complexes are located in or close to major cities with robust demand factors, including population, industry, and income growth. Class-B and -C apartments also fair well during recessions and have not experienced average occupancy levels below 91 percent in recent decades.

Consequently, these well-located suburban assets are viable for capital infusion from an expenditure standpoint to renovate the units, amenitize them, and bring the interiors up to the standards of class A finish-outs.

Additionally, they pose a much healthier and more affordable investment alternative from a net pricing standpoint. We’ve seen a tremendous decline in retail, hospitality, live entertainment, sports, and restaurants, and it is going to take time for the market to correct. We’re going to need innovation to reinvent the commercial real estate market.

Creating value

Due to these factors, multifamily is going to be the most valuable asset class over the next 10 years. We see resilience in apartments in general, and specifically in garden-style class-B and -C communities that don’t have the occupancy density of high rises and offer more open space and fresh air. Renovating and operating these assets creates enormous value for tenants and owners. Garden-style is the wave of the future.

How Apartment Renter Preferences are Changing Because of the Pandemic

The pandemic has shifted preferences when it comes to what renters are seeking when considering new apartments.

Before the emergency of COVID-19, a Greystar survey revealed the most wanted apartment amenities in the U.S. included swimming pools, multi-use common areas, pet-friendly features and soundproof walls. Other features that made it to the top of the survey were in-unit washers and dryers, balconies, hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances. Meanwhile, renters with a smaller budget preferred fewer amenities in exchange for lower rents.

But because of the pandemic, these amenities preferences are shifting. For renters who are not especially price-sensitive, “space is king now that so many people are working from home,” says Greg Willett, chief economist with RealPage Inc., a provider of property management software and services. He adds that some property owners report they are tweaking their model units to highlight a desk set-up or convenient work-from-home arrangement in order to attract new residents.

“We didn’t specifically ask in [this year’s] survey but [space demand] is something we’re watching,” says Rick Haughey, vice president of industry technology initiatives at the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), an organization that represents apartment owners and managers. “We’re trying to determine whether this pandemic is going to change people’s housing preferences moving forward. And one of the big question marks is whether this would push a move to suburban apartments.”

In addition to more space overall, a bar eating area dividing the kitchen from the living room is an amenity that many renters responded positively to even before the pandemic, according to RealPage research. With people eating at home more frequently, Willett says that is “a feature that really gets high marks now.”

Given that people might be spending less time outside now, balconies are another design element that has always been popular and seems to be in even greater demand now, according to Willett. Some properties are also allowing  renters to reserve the use of an on-site pool or gym in advance, and that feature also seems to be in strong demand among tenants. Lastly, more sophisticated package delivery capabilities, and the ability to safely store e-commerce orders is another top priority among apartment seekers.

“Package lockers or package rooms that are available 24/7 that you can get a code and access,” says Haughey. “That’s another [feature] that is increasingly important during the pandemic.”

Haughey adds that better HVAC systems are gaining interest, mainly due to awareness around air quality control because of COVID-19. Soundproof walls, garbage disposals, internet access, and in-unit washer and dryers still round out the most wanted apartment amenities, according to NMHC research.

The U.S. Construction Pipeline Remains Robust Through the First Half of 2020, Despite Pandemic

Analysts at Lodging Econometrics (LE) report that at the close of the second quarter of 2020, the total U.S. hotel construction pipeline stands at 5,582 projects/687,801 rooms, down a mere 1% by projects and rooms, Year-Over-Year (YOY). Remarkably, despite some project cancelations, postponements, and delays, there has been minimal impact on the U.S. construction pipeline. Contrary to what is being experienced with hotel operations, the pipeline remains robust as interest rates are at all-time lows.

Projects currently under construction stand at 1,771 projects/235,467 rooms, up 3% and 1% respectively, YOY. Projects scheduled to start construction in the next 12 months total 2,389 projects/276,247 rooms. Projects in tapartment-bed-bedroom-271618-webhe early planning stage stand at 1,422 projects/176,087 rooms. As expected, developers with projects under construction are still experiencing some opening delays. However, projects continue to move forward, albeit with extended timelines. As was the case at the end of the first quarter, developers with projects scheduled to start construction in the next 12 months continue to monitor current events and make adjustments to their construction start and opening dates.

In the first half of 2020, the U.S. opened 313 new hotels with 36,992 rooms. Additionally, there were 481 new projects with 56,823 rooms announced into the pipeline in the first half of 2020. Of those totals, 169 new project announcements with 20,359 rooms occurred in the second quarter. With franchise development staff largely working from home, non-essential travel halted, and with the on-going pandemic, the ability to get a new development deal signed has slowed. This has resulted in a 53% decrease in new project announcements compared to the second quarter of 2019 when 359 projects/44,895 rooms were recorded.

With the arrival of summer, the country has begun to see an uptick in domestic leisure travel. As a result, more and more hotels are re-opening, and many others have begun to move-up renovation plans and/or are repositioning their property with a brand conversion. In the first half of 2020, LE recorded 1,465 active renovation projects/314,043 rooms and 1,196 active conversion projects/136,110 rooms throughout the United States.

4 Ways Construction Technology Platforms Improve Team Collaboration

When it comes to general contractors and payment applications, “technology” and “collaboration” may not be the first words that come to mind. As the construction industry continues to innovate, we’ve found that technology solutions are doing more than just make certain processes easier. Below we highlight four ways we’ve seen innovative technology platforms influence team collaboration and overall success.

Single Source of Truth

Something that tends to slow teams down is when there is more than one version of a single document. We’ve all been there – you receive a spreadsheet and need to make edits, so you save a new version and make your changes. Once the spreadsheet passes through several hands, we now suddenly have 5 or 10 versions of the same document. At this point it’s impossible to tell which version is the “right” one. Not to mention the mess that occurs when you are emailing these documents back and forth, so they’re not being saved in a central location for easy access.

For Dome Construction, a large general contractor out of California, their manual process made it nearly impossible to determine a single source of truth. All of their subcontractors would email their applications for payment into one person, and then their project managers would have to get involved to try to make sense of each invoice. The web of communication was nearly impossible to track effectively.

This is where a platform like GCPay is so impactful for easy team collaboration. GCPay provides a collaborative location where the most up-to-date information is stored and available. All your contact and billing data is saved in a single place in GCPay and matches what you see in your ERP system. There is no need to make edits to a spreadsheet and re-upload, nor do you have to go digging for that exact lien waiver template. GCPay helped Dome Construction speed up their process time and data reliability.

Supply Chain Transparency

Clear, easy communication with your supply chain is paramount to running a successful business. And even if you have solid relationships and open lines of communication already set up, this is often a bottle neck that takes up valuable time and resources for your internal team. To preserve these internal resources, many GCs are relying on transparency rather than back-and-forth communication.

A construction technology platform should offer this transparency so that GCs can easily communicate with their supply chain without ever opening their email or picking up their phone.

One of the reasons Dome Construction adopted GCPay for their pay app processing is because of the transparency offered for their subcontractors. Subs who submit they AFPs can easily see feedback and assessments along the way without needing to get in contact with Dome’s AP team. With GCPay, companies like Dome can assess, approve, request information and more from within the platform.

Better Communication

Technology helps improve communication by easing some of the pressure your team may be experiencing. As deadlines loom and work piles up, it can be natural for team members to put their head down in an effort to get everything done. It can be dangerous for your team to work in isolation like this and can make them feel shut off from one another.

Tech is never meant to replace your team’s communication with one another, but it can help streamline their workflow. The Accounts Payable team at Dome Construction, for example, is thrilled that they never have to chase down an email thread to find the right contract information. Rather than relying on documents coming in via snail mail or fax machines, the information needed is all in one place on their GCPay portal. This serves as a single point of reference for teams when they do come together to collaborate.

Time saving

Last but certainly not least, we know running your business smoothly has a lot to do with saving time and resources whenever possible. Though it may seem daunting to incorporate new tech – especially at a time like this – doing so can have a massive impact on your team’s time.

The Dome Construction team is thrilled to be saving so much time for their accounting and project teams. “What used to take days now takes literally zero time because it’s already done in the platform,” their Billing Supervisor tells us. General contractors who switch to GCPay save an average of 50% of their accounting team’s time once they get up and running. Think of what your team could accomplish with that many additional labor hours!

We are excited to see many contractors adopting technology and making big strides in their collaboration as a result. We truly believe technology is the future of our industry. But, we also believe we are only as agile as our slowest process. Now more than ever, it’s important to consider leaving manual, paper-based processes in the past. If you’d like to read the Dome Construction case study in its entirety, click here.

Virtual Apartment Showings Will Play Vital Role in Leasing Process Even After Pandemic Ends

As in-person apartment viewings return, industry sources say the technologies used during the shelter-in-place period will stick around even after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

The use of virtual apartment showings and paperless leasing spiked during the pandemic, says Stacy Holden, industry principal and director at AppFolio, a property management software company. Around 64 percent of 1,000 property owners surveyed by the company believe virtual showings are here to stay. Holden says these results indicate property management and leasing teams are seeing substantial value in virtual showings, even beyond the pandemic era. Around 71 percent of property management companies have increased their priority of virtual showings, while 43 percent have increased the priority of paperless leasing, according to the survey.

“There will always be a subset of people who will prefer to go the virtual tour route. That will not go away,” says Holden. “Additionally, online leasing with e-sign options, no matter if a prospect does an in-person or virtual tour, will always win the day over paper documents. It is fundamentally a more streamlined way of approaching leasing, and it makes all the difference for everyone involved.”

Jim Love, vice president of marketing and brand at Chicago-based Draper and Kramer Inc., a property and financial services company, agrees that virtual apartment tours are here to stay. “The process was already trending in this direction, and the shutdown merely accelerated that shift. We do not see this as revamped, but the way things were headed anyway and where we were already investing.”

However, in the first two weeks since in-person apartment tours had resumed, RMK Management Corp., a Chicago-based real estate company, “started to see high closing ratios from walk-in traffic,” notes Diana Pittro, executive vice president with the firm. Face-to-face leasing accounted for around 95 percent of activity, while only 5 percent of leasing was done online, and usually only if the client was in a rush or was moving from out of town, says Pittro. In her view, it is too soon to tell how the breakdown will continue, but she expects many leases will still start with FaceTime tours and, depending on that experience, lead to an in-person viewing. About a third of all prospects who have conducted the virtual tour eventually come in to take a physical tour, according to Jon Schneider, senior vice president of asset management at Fifield Cos., a luxury real estate developer.

“The ‘virtual tour’ is now a more professionally managed experience that provides a digital experience of the asset that is catered to the client’s needs in terms of price, unit type and availability,” says Schneider. “This includes in-unit footage of the specific apartment that fits the prospects needs, 3D tours and features of models and the amenity areas, neighborhood info and an opportunity for Q&A. This tool, in conjunction with a subsequent socially distanced in-person tour, has created the leasing experience that we believe will continue long after COVID.”

At properties managed by RMK, virtual tours include the renter getting on a FaceTime or Skype call with a team member who is walking through the unit to conduct the showing. That team member will open closet doors and run faucets if the prospect asks them to, as well as offering walk-throughs of the amenity spaces, lobbies and other parts of the building, according to Pittro. The combination of virtual tour features, especially the in-unit footage of the specific apartment that fits the prospect’s needs and 3D technology, give prospects a good feel for the available space and amenities, says Schneider.

“We believe all of these tools are here to stay. It makes the process faster and more efficient,” says Love. “Now, you can scan for exactly what you want, make a shortlist, and focus on just the units you know fit your needs. We continue to invest in the digital experience and are excited to roll out even more.”

The Great Reset and Our New Work Life

Never in the history of our planet has this happened. In the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world: sickening people by the millions and killing them by the hundreds of thousands. The virus is not to be taken lightly, and neither are the lessons that we will learn from this period of rare reflection.

For the luckiest of us, it drastically changed the reality of our daily routines. People retreated to their homes. Cars were absent from the highways. Shopping slowed. Social hubs of activity ground to a halt. Skies became bluer. Birds became louder, or at least we stopped to notice their songs. People discovered small wonders in their neighborhoods. Technology connected many of us. Work for some continued as they discovered the untapped potential of “WFH,” while many lost their jobs or had their compensation cut drastically.

In the midst of this global tragedy, this reset has also given us a chance to reset our frame of reference. A reason to re-think what has always been “normal.” As many countries begin to return to the office, it’s a chance to ask ourselves: what do we truly value? From my point of view, a few thoughts:

— The need to be together. We are social beings, and we crave real connections.

— The ability to choose – imagine working from anywhere

— A focus on health and safety, and our company’s promise to protect.

— The invitation to be real. Not our work persona or our home persona, but both.

— A focus on what really matters, for companies, for communities, for individuals.

We have a rare opportunity to apply lessons learned from The Great Reset as we return to the office. By reframing our approach to work and life together, we begin to create a new, long-range vision of a balanced life that is safe, healthy, connected and happy: a new model of a blended “Worklife.”

These five key work-life values can help us guide our return to the office:

True Engagement
Yes, it’s true that Boomers are Zooming right along with everyone else, but don’t we all miss looking people in the eye and appreciating the energy and creativity that flows from being in a room together? How might we recognize the need for actual connection while respecting safe distancing practices?

Personal Freedom
With more options to work whenwhere and how we’d like, this new-found freedom will become an essential part of work in the future. Will we embrace the idea of focused work that happens at home and collaborative work that happens in the office?

Vitality and Wellbeing
No doubt we’ll spend a year focusing on the office being a sanitized and socially distant space. But a healthy work environment also needs to be a place of mental wellbeing where people feel safe: moving from fear to calm, from alienation to responsible connectedness. Can we evolve our office environment outside of simply sanitizing spaces to also be places that foster positive psychology?

Authentic Delight
We have discovered a new side to our co-workers, whether it’s simply a glimpse of their bookshelves as background or a trial run at being their own barber. People are bringing their authentic selves to work and for many of us, it has been delightful. How might we bring these delightful insights back to work with us in a way that embraces that same degree of authenticity in the office?

Reaffirmed Meaning
Like in any crisis, the pandemic is shining a light on our own personal values as well as corporate values. Many companies find themselves balancing economic challenges and the welfare of their employees. Many will struggle with difficult decisions, but this reset is a time for transparency and clear communications. A time to let everyone know what truly matters to them. Shouldn’t employees be able to see a company’s values in action, especially during times of crisis?

It has been said that “The trauma of the pandemic has shown us things that cannot be unseen.” Death, suffering and inequity are present all around us. But we have seen heroism, creativity and insight as well– an invitation for innovation in all aspects of our lives. May we use this Great Reset to re-affirm what we value, both in our personal lives and our work lives, as they merge together in new ways of being.

329 Metro Areas Added Construction Jobs in May

Construction employment increased in 329 out of 358 metro areas between April and May as a new survey finds that two-thirds of highway construction firms had at least one crash in the past year at highway work zones they operate. Officials with the Associated General Contractors of America and HCSS, which conducted the survey, urged drivers to slow down and be aware while driving through highway work zones during their summer travels.

“As industry employment increases, it is safe to assume that more people are working in highway work zones that are typically close to moving traffic,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “And it is important to remember that any time your job site is just a few feet away from fast-moving traffic, danger is never far away.”

Simonson noted that construction employment expanded in most parts of the country between April and May as coronavirus lockdowns began to ease, according to an analysis of federal employment data the association conducted. He noted that Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. added the most construction jobs (28,600, 44%) in May, followed by New York City (25,000, 31%) and Pittsburgh, Pa. (22,000, 60%). Click here for the complete analysis.

Many of those workers will be improving highways and bridges in work zones along busy highways this summer, the economist pointed out. That is why the association partnered with construction technology firm HCSS to conduct a nationwide survey of highway contractors on work zone safety. According to that survey, two-thirds of the 200-plus respondents reported at least one crash in the past year involving a moving vehicle at highway work zones, and 33% reported five or more crashes.

Seventeen percent of work zone crashes resulted in injury to construction workers, according to the survey. Meanwhile, drivers and passengers were injured in 44% of those crashes. Drivers and passengers are more likely to be killed in work zone crashes as well. Workers were killed in five percent of work zone crashes while drivers or passengers were killed in 15 percent of those crashes.

The only good news coming out of the survey, Simonson observed, is that coronavirus-related reductions in driving appear to have improved work zone safety. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said changes in highway traffic levels since the coronavirus made work zones safer. But with traffic already back to 90% of pre-coronavirus levels by some estimates, those safety improvements are likely “fleeting,” the economist said.

Association officials called for new measures to protect motorists and workers at highway construction sites. They noted that 24% of survey respondents say a greater police presence at work zones will improve safety. Another 18% say stricter laws against cell phone usage and distracted driving would help. And 17% would like to see greater use of devices like Jersey barriers to protect workers.

Association and HCSS officials said the easiest way to improve work zone safety is to get motorists to slow down and pay attention. They added that motorists should be careful navigating the narrower lanes and sudden lane shifts that are common in work zones. And they urged motorists to obey posted speed limits and keep their eyes on the road and off their phones.

“The importance of work zone safety can be measured by the lives that it saves,” said Steve McGough, the President and CFO of Sugar Land, Texas-based HCSS. “Saving the lives of our greatest asset, our people, has to come first in the planning and execution of work every day.”

Click here for the work zone survey results. And click here for the metro employment data.

Are Hospitals Prepared for the Next Pandemic?

WSP USA had an emergency response team in place, a legacy from a previous acquisition. So the firm was ready when healthcare systems sought assistance to increase their capacity to treat infected patients.

Within the nine-story University of Oklahoma Medical Center’s Adult Bed Tower Expansion that’s under construction, WSP got two floors COVID-19 ready in 60 days. Under normal scheduling, those floors wouldn’t have been completed until November. WSP provided the cleaning and decommissioning services, and Turner Construction is the GC.

Around the same time, a building team that included HGA and The Boldt Company was launching a modular isolation-room concept called STAAT Mod (STAAT stands for Strategic, Temporary, Acuity-Adaptable Treatment) that could be assembled and operational in 14 to 28 days, depending on the number of modules used. In late May, Adventist Fort Washington Hospital in Maryland became the first healthcare organization in the nation to accept COVID-19 infected in other critically ill patients in 12 modules with 7,000 sf of space that were assembled in two weeks. Maryland has ordered STAAT Mods for several other locations. And Boldt’s factory in Wisconsin is producing a module per day, and a 16-bed hospital in 11 days.

Other firms, like Leo A Daly and HKS, offered detailed hotel-to-patient care conversion strategies that, in HKS’s case, drew more than 200 people to an April 7 webinar on this topic. The webinar assembled a virtual panel of 40 experts that included representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and Marriott.

DLR Group worked with King County, Wash., to get quick-response clinics called Assessment & Recovery Centers, with a total of 2,500 beds in a dozen temporary units, available to infected homeless patients in a matter of weeks. Stantec was part of the team working with the Army Corps of Engineers that, in April, converted McCormick Place convention center in Chicago to a 3,000-bed alternate patient care facility. And a team that included HKS took only three weeks to convert an unused wing of a prison in Hagerstown, Md., to a 192-bed facility for treating lower-acuity COVID-19 patients.

These are just a few of the examples of AEC firms stepping forward to assist municipalities and health systems in meeting the surge of virus-infected patients.

“The landscape was changing by the hour,” recalls Mark Chrisman, Vice President and Healthcare Practice Director with Henderson Engineers. He and two colleagues—Jake Katzenberger and Russ Murdock—posted on BD+C’s website their strategy for converting existing buildings to alternate care sites for COVID-19 patients. The authors touched on four conversion scenarios, each with a concentration on airflow and HVAC systems.

The coronavirus exposed cracks in the country’s ability to mobilize and deliver patient services under less-than-ideal and stressful situations.

“Moving healthcare out of the ‘mothership’ [i.e., hospitals] to the community at large wasn’t an epidemic response,” says Michael Compton, AIA, ACHA, EDAC, Healthcare Design Leader with RS&H. “What you didn’t hear from healthcare clients is anything about designing hospitals beyond their normal capacity.”

That mindset, however, could be changing in favor of multifunctionality. RS&H recently completed a surgery center for Orlando Health in Claremont, Fla., that includes the first state-sanctioned 24-hour patient observation unit. Compton adds that legislation has been proposed that would allow patients to stay in surgery centers for 72 hours.

Some clients of Wakefield Beasley & Associates, a design firm that’s part of Nelson Worldwide, “are already talking about installing permanent drive-throughs for virus testing,” says CEO Lamar Wakefield.


There’s no question that the U.S. healthcare industry had some catching up to do. During the pandemic, HDR reposted a paper it published in 2017 that identified 10 principles for protecting patients from infectious diseases. The firm also mobilized its healthcare practice team to capture lessons learned from around the globe, with an eye toward refining its guidelines to prepare for the next pandemic, says Hank Adams, AIA, FACHA, HDR’s Global Director of Health.

“There was no medical facility in the U.S. whose infection control was up to the level of COVID-19,” states Michael Murphy, Founding Principal and Executive Director of MASS Design Group.

In April, MASS Design Group, Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital and The Mount Sinai Hospital, and Ariadne Labs investigated spaces converted and repurposed for the care of critically ill COVID-19 patients, to illuminate coronavirus capacity planning, interventions, and opportunities. This exercise inferred that hospitals are not designed to easily pivot to support the infrastructural changes needed at the scale of a pandemic surge. The study found variability in such adaptations by floor and unit, and in personal perceptions about risk zones within care units.

Jim Henry, AIA, Senior Vice President and Healthcare Director with CallisonRTKL, observes that too many hospital systems still don’t focus on uncovering the causes for infection spread. Healthcare facilities “have been pretty lax” in controlling their entrances and exits, “so it’s harder to quarantine people.” He’d also like to see far more hospital beds that are ICU-adaptable, although he concedes that such a shift would require code changes in some states.

On a granular level, Henry expects to see greater use of UV lamps and HEPA filters for infection control, and greater demand among patients and caregivers for cleaner surfaces.

Just how regimented this cleaning becomes, however, remains to be seen. Solvei Neiger, AIA, ACHA, Partner and Healthcare Practice Leader with ZGF Architects, says that while some clients are talking more about antibacterial materials and cleaner airflow, they aren’t ready yet to talk about using antimicrobials.

Perkins and Will’s solutions for infection control now include giving healthcare clients more design options for isolating patients, and for treating day-to-day patients during pandemics.

“The ability to quickly convert into a ‘war zone’ will likely be considered more often,” predicts Tatiana Guimaraes, an Associate Principal with Perkins and Will. “We also see an increased focus on designing around separation and compartmentalization,” says Brian Sykes, an Associate Principal and Healthcare Practice Leader with the firm. That would include separating elevators and other paths of travel, intentional design for PPE equipment storage, and private neonatal ICUs.

It’s worth noting that many of the ideas that AEC firms are floating aren’t new. “UV and indigo lights, HEPA filters, and ionization technology have been around for years,” says Chrisman.

Thomas Quigley, HOK’s Senior Principal and Director of Healthcare, notes that “universal” hospital rooms have been talked about forever. But what emerged instead, for a variety of reasons, were tiers of rooms—med-surge, step-down, and ICU. Now, hospitals are looking for greater utility and flexibility, even if such rooms cost more to build or retrofit.

Healthcare systems also don’t want to get caught off-guard again during peak demand periods. During the pandemic, Jeff Brand, AIA, EDAC, National Healthcare Leader with Perkins Eastman, toured a site in Brooklyn, N.Y., where a closed hospital was being considered for reopening. More broadly, Brand anticipates that his practice will be asked to create more spaces that can deal with higher-acuity and morbidity cases.

MEP engineer Mazzetti collaborated with HKS on its elaborate high school-to-patient care conversion concept. Jim Pappas, PE, LEED AP, Principal with Mazzetti, says that at least a dozen hospitals that his firm was working with were reopening “mothballed” facilities and re-engineering their rooms for negative pressurization.


Moe Goudarzi, PE, Southern California Healthcare Market Leader with Arup, says that some healthcare clients were receptive to upsizing their infrastructure during new construction, such as adding outlets or bigger exhaust systems, as a preemptive maneuver to handle surges.

Several firms expected a greater demand for modernization that would manifest itself in more replacement hospitals that can meet new infection control standards and guidelines. But Goudarzi says that, at least for Arup, this sector’s avidity for new construction divides into two groups: California—whose hospitals also need to be seismic-compliant by 2030 to hold onto their licenses—and the rest of the country, whose healthcare systems typically opt for renovation first.

Chrisman of Hendersen Engineers notes that the Midwest “still needs hospital beds.” Temporary or semi-permanent structures might fill that need, as during the pandemic the Army Corps of Engineers “cleared away a lot of regulatory brush” to allow such structures to supplement permanent hospitals and clinics.


• Understand the bio-contaminant risks unique to healthcare
• Plan and prepare for the unexpected
• Provide flexible patient care space
• Prioritize engineering controls over protocols
• Integrate facility design with operational protocols
• Control contamination through separation
• Eliminate airborne spread of infection agents (HDR suggests anteroom filtration and directional airflow, and HEPA filtration of exhaust and vent openings)
• Choose surfaces and finishes for decontamination
• Minimize the possibility of HVAC system failure
• Define how to measure containment success

“We look for regulators, which are generally behind the curve, to stay out of the way, which they did during the crisis,” says Jim Crabb, PE, LEED AP, Principal–Mechanical with Mazzetti. This was certainly true of the conversion of McCormick Place in Chicago to an alternate patient care facility. “This happened as a result of some relaxation in regulations and reimbursements, and greater cooperation among stakeholders,” says Brenda Bush-Moline, AIA, ACHA, EDAC, Vice President and Sector Leader, Health, with Stantec.

Some changes that AEC firms support, such as making more hospital beds ICU-adaptable, would require code changes. In California, there are specific regulations for ICU unit size, and airborne isolation (one in every 12 beds). “Therein lies the challenge,” says Christopher Naughton, AIA, ACHA, Healthcare Practice Leader and Senior Healthcare Planner with HMC Architects. He elaborates that a medical surgical unit in California only requires isolation for one in every 35 beds. “If we can get past that requirement that would allow for adaptability in times of crisis.”


Healthcare systems will use what they’ve learned from this pandemic to be better prepared for the next dangerous event. And they’ll expect their AEC partners to be ready with quick responses again.

Goudarzi says that Arup’s clients, post coronavirus, want the firm to predict the future. And it doesn’t require a crystal ball to see that telemedicine and telehealth will help shape that future.

A significant roadblock was lifted when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services broadened access to telehealth in terms of reimbursement for visits and services. During the pandemic, when most doctors and other healthcare professionals weren’t seeing patients face-to-face, the virtual floodgates opened.

ZGF’s Neiger points to one academic medical campus that reported 62% of its clinic visits were via video, versus 0% previously. Another academic medical campus, which had been receiving 1,000 teleheath visits per month, saw that number rise to 1,000/day.

One of Stantec’s healthcare clients saw a 10,000% increase in telehealth visits in one month. And Mazzetti’s Pappas says Marin Health in California reported going from 0% telehealth visits to 70% in a week.

“Technology that limits personal interaction but improves patient care will be in demand,” says Rob Hume, PE, Mazzetti’s Senior Technology Consultant. He’s already seen “virtual sitters”: video and audio monitors for Type-1 patients. He foresees technology being used to track the locations of staff and equipment, to analyze what patients a staff person had been in contact with, and to monitor staff compliance with infection control requirements.