Hospitals and health care clinics learned some valuable lessons in 2020, a year that stretched hospital capacity and brought to the forefront additional needs that are now trending in the industry.

Some of those trends relate to architecture and engineering as designers work to accommodate the needs of the foreseeable future.

Architecture and Health Care

It’s no secret that one of the big trends this past year in health care was the increase in telehealth, where more patient-doctor visits were conducted virtually. It’s a trend that will continue and, as such, has created some additional trends on the architecture side: Some firms are helping hospitals and clinics develop designated space with accommodating technology, where providers may meet virtually with their patients. Designs also now include space where patients may self-check in and self-room while they wait for a doctor.

“It has thrown a new twist on things with the telehealth experience,” said Stanley Schimke, director of health practice at EAPC Architects Engineers in Grand Forks, N.D. “There really are no waiting rooms … so it’s to address, in the future, how patients are spending their time, navigating through their patient portal, downloading on their apps. The telehealth care system is looking at how to streamline that and make it a better patient experience. It means looking at creating rooms that are just for telehealth on the clinical or acute care side for staff.”

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He said he didn’t do much of those designs until this past year when the pandemic was declared, but almost immediately the collaboration with hospitals and clinics began.

“We did some of that work over the years, maybe as low as 2%,” Schimke said, “but it has now gone as high as 80%.”

Schimke works with clinics and hospitals in the region – Altru, Essentia, Sanford and Trinity among them – but also with health care providers in other states, such as Arizona and Wyoming. These are trends he is seeing not just regionally, but across all of the states in which he works.

Space also is being reviewed in another area of some hospitals: The patient room. With many hospitals stretched to capacity during the COVID-19 crisis, many are rethinking how to maximize their room capacity. Instead of having one-patient private rooms, Schimke said, many hospitals are looking at creating two-bed hospital rooms.

Architects also are developing new entryways for infectious patients, where they can access a designated entry/exit of the building instead of using the main entryway.

Architecture and Retail

David Sogge, project manager at ICON Architects in West Fargo, N.D., has spent much of his career working with the retail and hospitality industry, and over the years has seen a number of different trends come and go. The biggest trend he is noticing today, and one that will continue post-pandemic, is the blending of entertainment, food and beverage components into retail.

Big box stores want customers to stay in the store longer and be entertained while they are there. Now, many smaller stores are experimenting with these options.

“I think that is a strategy that is working,” Sogge said. “It is becoming pretty prevalent, actually. … You don’t just go there to shop. You grab a coffee, you grab a sandwich.”

One word for it is retail-tainment – “a trend that has started and will continue to go that way,” he said.

Some stores have even blended artwork and other eye-catching displays that keep customers in the store longer.

“It can be a wide variety of different experiences,” he said. “Stores like lululemon, for instance, that have incorporated yoga studios into them; they are experimenting to that level.”

While some establishments may have had to retool space to accommodate social distancing during the pandemic – and some may have cut back on their blended strategies due to cost savings during these times – Sogge foresees trends reverting back to blending entertainment with retail to enhance the customer experience. He said the store of the future will have even more entertainment components.

Some stores also are experimenting with their online pick-up sections, explaining that some businesses are better at it than others. Those who have positioned their pick-up locations at the back of the store may want to rethink their plan. Having those sites at the front of the store is much more customer friendly.

Ultimately, the store of the future – and the architects who design them – must focus on strong visuals of the brand or product and define variations of a common theme. According to an article by Commercial Design, that means “creating elements” and “concepts and themes” that predominantly relate to the customer “experience and interaction with the space, the social/environmental awareness and, ultimately, the brand’s values.”

In Sogge’s field, all of this means more positive challenges for architects. He said it is exciting to work with retailers who think outside the box and want to experiment with the customer experience. For the architect, it provides new ways to think about designing stores and storefronts.

A lot of online-only stores also are building physical storefronts, and so there’s another opportunity there to make stores that are appealing and new to in-person customers.

“With this whole online trend everyone thinks retail is dead, but it’s not,” he said. “It is reinventing itself.”

Andrew Weeks may be reached at 701-780-1276 or aweeks@prairiebusinessmagazine.com