Sheds, Meds and Beds

From Beautiful Shells to Life Science Hubs, Evolving Uses for Tomorrow’s Mixed-Use Developments

March 28, 2022

Design Principal

The pandemic continues to disrupt commercial real estate, from remote work and social distancing to supply chains and inflation. As these challenges unfold and organizations evolve in response, we explore the future of commercial developments through the lens of three fast-growing sectors: sheds—industrial-oriented spaces such as production studios and data or distribution centers; meds—commercial life science buildings or medical office; and beds—mixed-use residential developments, as well as innovative design strategies for each type of development.

Sheds: Developing A Beautiful Shell for Creativity and Commerce

As the demand for content skyrockets and e-commerce sales boom during the pandemic, industrial spaces—for film and music production studios as well as distribution and data centers—have become even more essential to entertainment and tech companies alike. The flexible, open environment of warehouses can serve as a blank slate and provide the necessary space for entertainment and tech companies to produce on-demand movies and TV, as well as fulfill, pack and ship online orders. In addition, warehouses also provide an authentic sense of place and history, they can be more sustainable if they repurpose older materials, and they allow for greater flexibility because there are fewer columns than many modern workplaces. Yet these buildings are often siloed from their communities. Instead, they can become better neighbors—especially in urban settings—and by extension, be even more efficient and sustainable.

It is critical that production studios, fulfillment centers and data centers extend beyond a fortress mentality. Doing so transforms “shed” warehouse environments into those that are mutually beneficial to both the tenants leasing them, by driving partnerships and innovation, as well as the neighborhoods that surround them, by fostering creativity and investment in local services for current and future generations.

Furthermore, as urban building stock ages, film industry studios have the unique opportunity to purchase or renovate old studios into production spaces, offices and even community gathering places that are open to the public and provide a behind-the-scenes look into the creative process. For instance, a production studio that is relocated to an urban or a more walkable neighborhood could integrate into office or residential developments and offer space to host interactive exhibitions or partnerships with local nonprofits. In addition, studios open to the public can allow people to create and share their own content. One way is to maximize accessible public space by integrating production studios with public thoroughfares, like riverfront walkways, while also providing open space for concerts and gatherings.

Also, as warehouses are usually located in the suburbs, exurbs or more rural areas of the country, providing space for them in cities can be a more sustainable option—featuring more connected urban transit not just for employees to commute to work, but for the organizations delivering goods and products to and from these warehouses. In addition, as land costs rise and building uses evolve, these “shed” spaces can maximize tight urban sites by going vertical—building up rather than out, and combining mixed-use and production studios, fulfillment and data centers into one. For instance, locating these “sheds,” which are typically three to four stories, in urban areas and surrounding them with office or residential components can help compact their footprint. Wrapping these warehouses with space for different types of uses provides longer-term flexibility. In addition, with the future wide-spread adaption of driverless cars, unused parking garages could be retrofitted or repurposed into distribution centers.

Meds: Driving Life Science and Healthy Innovation

Perhaps now more than ever, health is driving innovations—and the commercial life science industry plays a central part, especially key in the discovery of treatments that increase life expectancy. While healthcare buildings such as hospitals, academic medical centers and specialty clinics are critical forces in this arena, funding for and activity around commercial life science developments is also increasing.

One emerging trend is life science tenants that relocate to key science clusters near leading universities, such as the “golden triangle” between Oxford, London and Cambridge in England or the high concentration of colleges in Boston in the US. There is also high demand for office space conversions, from heads-down zones into lab space and collaborative amenities that allow staff to serendipitously bump into one another to learn, brainstorm and exchange ideas.

For example, The Works repurposes a warehouse in Cambridge, UK’s, burgeoning life science and technology cluster into a unique research and office environment for a new fleet of businesses to collaborate and connect. One- or two-story layouts provide tenants the space they need to expand, while a double-height atrium that hosts amenity and breakout spaces encourages tenants to brainstorm and socialize. Similarly, the University Enterprise Zone, hosted by Queen Mary University of London and funded by Research England, creates an innovative space for emerging digital health, med-tech and AI startups. Dedicated workspaces for each tenant—as well as shared meeting rooms, convertible labs and maker spaces—can grow and adapt as future space needs evolve.

The Works in Cambridge, UK, represents a new approach to life science that promotes collaboration and connection between tenants to foster new discoveries. A central atrium serves as a place to socialize and brainstorm while a variety of layouts accommodate tenants’ current and future needs.

 

Yet while life science tenants rely on collaboration to foster new discoveries and cross-disciplinary research, they are generally more private than tech. They want synergies but need to maintain confidentiality and security throughout their work. To enhance privacy while still fostering connections between different teams and organizations, developments can provide separate lab and office spaces that also feature shared amenity zones. One project in south Seattle, S, is combining 1.26 million sq of Class A lab and office space across a six-building, 6+acre, creative-class cluster-development, located around transit-oriented nodes with a focus on innovative design principles, human health, and environmental well-being.

Commercial developments are also prioritizing healthy buildings for both people and the planet. This includes imbuing projects with five key qualities—light, views, ventilation, air quality and thermal comfort—while a focus on nature can restore and rejuvenate.

Beds: Building Connective Communities

Mixed-used residential developments are becoming increasingly important anchors in communities, serving as key neighborhood lifelines with a diversity of housing types, office space, restaurants and retail, as well as shared amenities and events programming. Mixed-use developments can also help address one of the world’s largest crises—a lack of space for housing—by increasing access to more affordable housing while providing developers and even tech companies with more stable investments. Mixed-use developments with residential spaces can help kickstart vibrant communities, providing not just places for people to live, but the amenities they and surrounding neighborhoods they need to thrive. In addition, some developers are opting to switch uses to help meet the growing demand for housing, for instance, through office-to-residential renewals and conversions. As cities see vacancies rise in Class B office buildings, there is a flight to high quality buildings that are mixed-use or provide amenities that align with the market need, opening up new areas of space for housing. And, with cities continuing to flex and change during the pandemic, we may also see post-pandemic housing transition to an extended stay model to accommodate a work-from-anywhere approach.

A focus on wellness—from physical to mental and community health—as well as connectivity is shaping mixed-use developments. This extends beyond fitness centers and outdoor community yoga to healthcare clinics, nonprofit centers, spaces for environmental and governance groups, and even schools. One example is the mixed-use development Gravity, which kickstarted an up-and-coming district outside of downtown Columbus, OH. Inspired by its eclectic and creative neighborhood, it builds a welcoming infrastructure of amenities, art and culture. Residential, office, retail and community spaces stitch the community together, with unique “pocket spaces” woven between the angular buildings that provide an array of amenities: a food truck zone, gathering space for outdoor movie screenings, vegetable gardens and even a graffiti wall. Projects like Gravity are creating equitable and inclusive spaces by uniting the community, providing inviting spaces for local and visitors, and offering vital resources for the neighborhood and beyond.

Developments like Gravity in Columbus, OH are creating equitable spaces by inviting the community in and offering amenities and resources that can be enjoyed by residents, tenants and visitors alike.

 

In addition, infrastructure improvements—expanding train lines, for example—are paving new opportunities for mixed-use, extending the radius where people can live and work without needing to drive. A catalyst for sustainable urban development, the Spring District in Bellevue, WA, is a transit-oriented LEED Neighborhood-certified mixed use development that incorporates spaces for working and living as well as walkable streets, independent retail and open spaces.

As our urban spaces continue to evolve, mixed-use projects create healthier, more resilient and connected communities than stand-alone projects.  “Sheds, meds and beds” hits on three unique areas that are changing our future cities. At the same time, it is critical to consider how we can better integrate new building types and sizes into our urban fabric. Cities are changing the zoning codes to allow for more density and program uses in urban areas, and the integration of these new archetypes will greatly impact how our cities function in the future. It is imperative that real estate developers, city planners, urban designers, architects and city dwellers challenge convention to bring together traditional and nontraditional programs to create new environments. Tomorrow’s next wave of urban environments demand opportunities to live, work, play, innovate, create and make together.

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Influencing Action: The Power of Perspective

Clear Eyes for Climate Change Action

March 22, 2022

Managing Partner, NBBJ

On January 13, 2022, I stood on a remote saddle high in the Ellsworth Mountains; it was about –20°F, but I was geared up for the cold. The view was infinite and amazing to behold. Spectacular mountains as high as 16,000 feet and glaciers that average 6,000 feet deep below the surface spanned the horizon. I felt I stood at the very edge of the Earth—an extreme place to be, yet a place so remote that I could not deny the perspective on life and our planet it offered.

The vast Antarctica continent extending beyond the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains.

 

To be here, a place solely of rock, ice, wind, silence and extreme cold was to know self-reliance, awe and how fragile life can be. Still, something inexplicable was happening—it had snowed several inches the night before and I would soon discover more snow was coming in a raging storm a few days off.

Antarctica is a desert—the driest continent, with an average precipitation of 1.5 inches per year. Yet more than a foot of snow fell over the two weeks I was in the Ellsworth Mountains. “Yes, our climate is changing,” I thought, “this snowstorm should not be happening.” A few days later at high camp, as a new storm raged on, I wondered if the intense 60 mph winds I was experiencing would accelerate and endanger my life, and whether climate change was the culprit. That day, in that moment, I feared climate change.

My adventure became a personal field study, clarifying what I’ve sensed, read and heard about climate change.

Storm clouds brewing over Mount Vinson’s high camp and Mount Shinn beyond.

 

Returning to Seattle, 9,000 miles from Mount Vinson and the Ellsworth Mountains, I reflected on the essence of leadership and organizational responsibilities. Leaders ensure their organization is guided by a compelling vision, relevant goals, coherent actions and on-course trajectories. Organizations that create the built environment must be concerned with the health of society.

The long journey home descending the Branscomb Glacier.

 

Advancing the health of society safeguards our ethical purpose. Ethical purpose is an authoritative force for relevancy. Being relevant guarantees success. Finally, addressing climate change guarantees relevancy.

NBBJ is a leadership intensive practice—a grand experiment where our role-based organization vests authority and responsibility with the role each of us fulfill. We express this cultural and values touchstone by highlighting that “we lead from every chair.”  This means that it is up to every NBBJer to ask, “How will I reduce carbon today?” If ever there was a wicked problem that requires leaning in, learning, looking around the corners and being proactive, it is the challenge to become a net-zero carbon society.

Perspective is powerful.

We must act now to create sustainable, resilient, zero-carbon experiences, buildings, and communities.

 

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Four Ideas to Improve Hospital Work Environments To Help Combat America’s Nursing Crisis

Hospital design experts Teri Oelrich and Bryan Langlands explore ways to improve the efficiency and experience for nurses in hospital settings

March 14, 2022

Partner, NBBJ

A version of this piece originally appeared on Forbes. It was co-authored by Bryan Langlands and Teri Oelrich.

 

Two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, frontline nurses report feeling overworked and burned out—and the US is in the throes of a nursing crisis. While the pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to nurses’ stress and fatigue, the nursing population is unique, as are the factors contributing to the staffing shortage. A significant segment of the nursing population is nearing retirement age, while changing demographics signal a need for more nurses to care for an aging society. And while nursing school applications are up—a positive trend—enrollment is still not growing fast enough to meet the projected demand. Lastly, nursing has one of the highest turnover rates in the medical profession, with 16.5% of all nurses employed in hospitals quitting their jobs within the first year, costing hospitals $4 to $6 million annually.

“The nation’s healthcare delivery systems are overwhelmed, and nurses are tired and frustrated as this persistent pandemic rages on with no end in sight. Nurses alone cannot solve this longstanding issue. If we truly value the immeasurable contributions of the nursing workforce, then it is imperative that HHS utilize all available authorities to address this issue,” says American Nurses Association President Ernest Grant.

While we as designers are removed from administrative or policy decisions, we can create environments that improve operations, efficiency and working conditions. Here are four ideas to consider when planning and designing better work environments for nurses and other staff on inpatient bed units.

Plan for Efficiency

To achieve an efficient nursing unit, it is important to focus on the number, type and location of specific rooms; provide adequate support space; plan layouts and grouping of patient rooms that align with nurse-to-patient staffing ratios; and provide space and features that support and welcome non-dedicated staff.

Understanding how nurses work and allowing that to inform the layout of a nursing unit results in a better-functioning care environment. On average, nurses spend only 31% of their time with patients, while the remainder of their time is dedicated to activities such as waiting for lab data responses, patient transfer, searching for required equipment and documentation. For example, aside from patient rooms, the rooms most frequently accessed by nurses are medication, clean and soiled rooms—so, the number and placement of these rooms are critical to allowing nurses to spend more time with patients.

An effective nursing unit design solution is called “open core.” In an open core hospital design, patient rooms are located on both sides of a central work zone corridor, eliminating physical imped­iments within the areas of direct care. Between the banks of patient bedrooms, anything not related to direct patient care (such as elevators, mechanical shafts, stairs, electrical closets, offices, and toilets) is removed, leaving an unobstructed area to create an effective care team workplace. The standard eight-foot-wide corridor seen in many hospitals is doubled to sixteen feet. This accommodates circulation a clinical zone that houses decentralized team workstations, and supply and equipment alcoves stocked with the most frequently accessed items by staff. In addition, this layout creates neighborhoods for caregivers that locate nursing staff near patient rooms and supplies, with greater access and visibility to both.

An example of an open core hospital design at Mount Carmel Health System’s East campus in Columbus, OH. The design features double-width corridors and caregiver “neighborhoods” that place nurses in closer proximity to both patient rooms and supplies.

 

Select Finishes, Fixtures and Equipment That Improve Working Conditions

The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the limitations of many design elements that have been used for decades, and positively reinforces design advancements introduced on newer nursing units. One example is the advantages of glass over solid doors. Feedback from nursing staff on older units with traditional solid wood swing doors to patient rooms indicates that these types of doors contribute to staff isolation and compromised communication. Full-height glass doors, whether swing or sliding, allow for greater situational awareness, the ability to nurse from outside the room, maintain sight lines to patients, improve visual communication, increase natural light to the support areas, and reduce social isolation.

Motorized overhead patient ceiling lifts are another example of a solution that can be included at the beginning of a project. However, these lifts are often one of the first things to go when construction projects are over budget. While removing these pieces of equipment results in initial savings, injured staff and days away from work may end up costing hospitals far more in the long run. According to a 2018 article published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overexertion and bodily reaction as a result of excessive physical effort (bending, twisting, lifting and repetitive motion) accounts for 45.6% of all injuries occurring to nurses, and work-related musculoskeletal disorders resulted in 8,730 days-away-from-work among nurses in the private industry. To reduce occupational hazards and benefit nurses, patients and the healthcare system, keeping ceiling lifts in the project is optimal. Another solution is to provide the infrastructure—structural support and tracks—so ceiling lifts can be added in the future.

Embrace Technology to Save Time and Enhance Communication

Service robots, or automated guided vehicles, can make life better for nurses and staff working on units by performing simple yet time consuming tasks like delivering supplies directly to the unit, the room and even the patient. On many nursing units, technicians meet robots outside patient rooms, where they unload nurse carts and put away supplies, while new robots pick up the empty carts and quickly flip them for their next use. They can also keep workers safe by transporting supplies in areas where pathogens are a risk—an added benefit discovered during the pandemic. Other healthcare technologies like radio frequency identification and real-time location systems minimize time lost looking for equipment and can lead to an overall reduced inventory need.

In addition, nurse call systems now offer digital wall staff terminals which enable nurses and housekeeping staff to indicate whether a room needs servicing or has already been serviced—and what specifically is needed—by simply tapping a screen. Similar technology puts the control in the hands of patients and their families with digital tablets. These tablets can be used to control lights, temperature and window shades in patient rooms while also allowing patients to order meals, watch educational material customized to their ailment and recovery, and even FaceTime with friends or family members.

Finally, wearable devices allow nurses to communicate without having to leave the patient room, and more easily and accurately request help. These types of communication devices can also contribute to reduced noise and disruption to patients as they eliminate the need for overhead intercom systems.

Bring Amenities to the Unit to Reduce Stress

Like airports—which provide a variety of dining and seating options, Wi-Fi and computer access, and amenities like massages or yoga immediately adjacent to the gate—bringing amenities onto nursing units allows nurses and other staff to refresh and regroup “off-stage” without the stress of leaving their post. In a virtual roundtable with leaders from healthcare systems in the U.K. and U.S., participants noted that on-unit staff support spaces and convenient access to things like lactation rooms, showers and healthy food made a tremendous difference in quality of life for frontline caregivers. These amenities are also scalable, with some requiring little added space or cost. For example, small scale solutions like the creative use of small alcoves or leftover spaces such as the informal opportunity areas off stairwells or corridors, improvements to shared spaces like bathrooms or common areas, healthy food delivery or grab-and-go options, or the installation of rest pods are easier to implement than a large, centralized café, gym or wellness space—and are often more useful given the close proximity to nursing units.

Recently, institutions have started providing other concierge services to staff with the goal of increasing employee happiness and satisfaction and improving retention and recruitment. While amenities like staff retail pharmacies have been in existence for years, healthcare institutions are now incorporating services like day care, pet care, dry cleaning, salon services and made-to-order food to take home after a shift.

America’s nursing crisis is complex, and the staffing shortage may seem dire, especially amid the Omicron surge and the continued exhaustion felt by nurses and healthcare workers alike. Design solutions, technology and services that improve working conditions and prioritize efficiency, well-being and satisfaction can help to attract and retain nursing talent and create a better experience for nurses and staff.

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