Stopping Corona from sticking to the surface - The importance of façade design in healthcare sectors.
Healthcare systems have been overwhelmed by a high rate of hospitalisation and quarantine measures necessitated by the persistent COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Thousands of lives have been lost, and millions have required medical care; the quality of care given has raised questions on the state of healthcare facilities.
The challenges that have emerged have highlighted the importance of refining healthcare frameworks and proposing innovative tools to accommodate the rapid increase in patients, worldwide. It has become obvious that countries the world over have to expand, upgrade and retrofit existing healthcare facilities with appropriate selection of façades and building design materials, such as cladding, flooring and ceiling.
Healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs), caused through the transmission of pathogens from infected patients to other patients, visitors and healthcare personnel have gained much attention. Such infections can also be acquired through the devices used in medical procedures, such as catheters and ventilators. HAIs can extend hospitalisation stays and exert tremendous economic burden on patients and healthcare systems. Within healthcare facilities, environmental contamination is often identified as a major contributor to the transfer of pathogenic HAI. Research has shown that HAIs are linked to the presence of patients, visitors and medical personnel in the hospital environment.
Several design parameters can contribute to infection control. These parameters include urban design, geographic location, HVAC systems, selection of façades and the associated indoor air quality. Façades play a critical role in protecting buildings in terms of hygiene. Therefore, façade design and its selection are becoming increasingly important in current and future hygienic buildings. Figure 2 illustrates the schematic of protection agencies that complement one another to improve the performance of healthcare facilities. The interrelation of the aforementioned parameters cannot be overemphasised and require a universal performance optimisation approach to be implemented. This would mean an innovative healthcare design with an integrated method to accommodating various parameters (Figure 1).
Figure 1: 3D rendering of future urban healthcare design.
Figure 2: Schematic diagram of design parameters.
Façade, the skin of a building
A building façade acts like a fence that controls the indoor environment in terms of radiation, particles and light, among other factors. While a façade may be regarded only as an external skin, it can also be used internally by means of modular cladding systems. This would involve the employment of surface finishes of operation theatres, patient rooms and intensive care units (ICUs), in which it is of critical importance to provide the highest level of hygiene.
There are two aspects as far as a healthy façade is concerned. The first aspect has to do with the design of external and internal systems, where the façade system has a high impact on the quality of a patient’s health inside the building. In fact, the form of the skin and the façade units’ design influence the air circulation and ventilation ratio due to the air movement mechanisms inside the façade. Furthermore, the design of the façade units determines the amount of radiation that can be reflected or absorbed in the rooms, besides that radiation, which penetrates into them; all these influence the wellbeing of patients and other indoor occupants. On the other hand, the number of transparent and opaque units in the skin itself affect patients psychologically in terms of daylight absorption quantity. However, while the façade protects from the outside, is it capable of doing so from inside-out? In other words, can it protect the community from nosocomial infection?
The implementation of different values of air pressure to prevent airborne infections in operation theatres and ICUs have been considered broadly in the design of hospital rooms. For example, the design approach used in operation theatres – of applying positive air pressure inside and negative air pressure outside the theatres – could be reformulated in the façade skin design of the hospitals to limit the prevalence of microbes in the outer atmosphere, as per Figure 3. The positive pressure values will restrict the airflow from the outside to the inside and will assist in preventing microbes from spreading to the inner atmosphere. Façade, in this case, will work as the first defensive line against the microbes coming from outside.