Let’s Make Obsolete Hospitals Obsolete

Prefabrication Can Make Healthcare Resilient and Sustainable. Here's How.

February 5, 2014

Partner, NBBJ

Healthcare today is changing like never before — practice models are evolving radically, medical technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, and healthcare’s financial infrastructure has become extremely volatile, especially due to recent steps toward insurance reform. Each of these issues has the potential to significantly affect how a new healthcare facility will be used in the future, and too often these drastic changes in use have led to premature obsolescence in hospital design.

Today architects invest tremendous effort in designing hospitals that are sustainable in terms of energy performance and near-term environmental impact, but unless we specifically address the threat of premature obsolescence, our hospitals are destined to be inherently wasteful in the long run. Once a healthcare facility becomes obsolete, it will either be overhauled, demolished, or worse yet, left in place for decades as an underperforming workplace that frustrates staff, diminishes patient care and squanders resources. These are not sustainable outcomes. At the societal scale, this wastefulness has afflicted trillions of dollars of healthcare spending.

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A New Approach 

In order to prevent obsolescence and ensure that a medical facility’s enterprise value will endure, architects are now developing strategies that maximize a hospital’s ability to accommodate unforeseen change. These strategies are based on a new design thinking that moves past the traditional view of a building as a static container, and instead explores opportunities for designing a building as an open-ended framework of prefabricated components. By developing a component logic that is highly standardized, demountable and multifunctional, key areas within the framework can be repurposed, reconfigured or replaced as performance requirements evolve. Eventually this allows for a massive reduction in waste because it significantly increases the probable lifespan of the entire project and ultimately leads to a future where medical facilities are designed to be transformable rather than disposable.

In a new age of clinical sustainability, can we make “Replacement Hospitals” a thing of the past?

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