With Greater Disasters Comes Greater Responsibility for Resilience
We also need to understand the role hospitals and healthcare design can play in addressing climate change. We often associate building resilience with the hardening of the structure and redundancy of the infrastructure, all of which add more materials, energy, and resources that contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. But to what extent can resilience also be increased through flexibility and adaptability? Can we start to build more resilient hospitals that generate less carbon throughout their entire life cycle – and that can also be adaptively reused and repurposed more effectively?
Healthcare organizations in California are coming up against this issue of the adaptability of their hospitals over the next nine years. Under Senate Bill 1953, California hospitals have until 2030 to make regulatory seismic upgrades to continue to operate. What happens after 2030, when over 775 hospitals across the state are to be decommissioned or abandoned? Too often, the wasteful and carbon-detrimental trend is to demolish old buildings and build new from the ground up. But what if new facilities were more intentionally designed for future adaptation and adaptive reuse? Designing for adaptability extends the life of materials and buildings, conserves resources, and avoids environmental pollution associated with new manufacturing and construction.
Hospitals are often large enough to accommodate various uses and occupancies. They are often built of materials meant to have long life spans. They also tend to be centrally located in their communities and on campuses that receive heavy traffic every day and serve a wide range of people in that region. There is great potential for the adaptive reuse of these buildings to continue to serve the community.
As healthcare designers, how can we support the adaptive reuse of decommissioned hospital buildings? Repurposed patient rooms could provide housing. Former hospitals could host live/work communities, adapt kitchens and cafeterias to new restaurants and food shops, and convert old care suites to day clinics and old pharmacies to new offices.
The next decade is a pivotal time to learn from the past and prepare for the future. We cannot afford to react to the next disaster and act like we didn’t see it coming. We can play a vital role in creating resilient and innovative healthcare solutions with the built-in flexibility and capacity to weather future storms, and to extend long-term benefits to our communities and the environment.