Pandemic effect: Team structure

The Advocate Outpatient Collaborative (Advocate Aurora Health, HDR, Boldt, IMEG, and partners), an Integrated Lean Project Delivery team that has spent the past six years rapidly delivering clinics throughout the Chicagoland area, dramatically shifted its focus on March 18, 2020, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a series of surge tents outside the network’s facilities. Photo: 

TEXT Jason-Emery Groen, Design Director, HDR

What can COVID-19 teach architecture firms about the optimal structure of design teams? The pandemic swiftly affected healthcare systems and providers around the world, creating an emergency situation in which a surge of patients required testing and care. HDR became involved in several parallel COVID-19 response projects. Three of these are notable for drawing on deep collaboration and established teams: one in London, Ontario; another intended for a worldwide audience; and a third in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Rapid response in London

On March 31, the London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario contacted HDR, requesting assistance with the development of a regional field hospital on an extremely tight timeline. The success in moving quickly and qualitatively was the result of a long-standing relationship with the client team, coupled with a depth of expertise within HDR. Our firm’s on-staff microbiology and containment specialists allowed us to rapidly develop peer-reviewed solutions. HDR had also struck an internal COVID-19 Rapid Response Task Force. Our internal communication on the evolving nature of the pandemic spanned multiple disciplines and regions, minimizing our risk by ensuring that, to the greatest extent possible, our advice to clients would be based on precedent and scientific knowledge.

Within days, a design for the reconfiguration of the 11,700-square-metre Agriplex at the Western Fair District was completed—and just days after, trades were constructing the physical facility. The internal reconfiguration was geared to accept up to 144 convalescing COVID-19 patients, minimizing the anticipated surge on regional healthcare facilities. Based on years of previous work together, the team moved swiftly through approvals and required reviews through a process built on transparency and clear communication.

A global approach for areas of need

Soon after the effort in London, HDR and its pro-bono arm Design4Others were approached by Construction for Change, a global nonprofit focusing on building health and educational facilities in areas of need. We were asked to help in the development of a COVID-19 Response Unit Resource Guide. Working with Construction for Change’s staff, with whom HDR has had a long-standing relationship, we distilled the key criteria needed to create safe and effective temporary, medium and long-term pandemic facilities. The inclusion of a third entity, Boston-based Adaptiv Architecture, broadened the variety of skill, talent and resources to round out the team. The 16-page illustrated guide has now been translated into French and Spanish, allowing it to reach further in terms of global impact.

An Integrated Project team pivots to pandemic response

In March, HDR also received a call from Advocate Aurora Health in Illinois to help them develop a response to the expected patient surge throughout their healthcare system. Two weeks later, 26 fully outfitted overflow surge facilities for forward triage were designed, constructed and commissioned across Illinois and Wisconsin, including in Chicago.

Architectural diagrams for the system designed by the IPD team, including HDR, for Advocate Aurora Health’s locations to manage an influx of COVID-19 patients. Image: Advocate Aurora Health Forward Surge Tent

HDR, along with several stakeholders, was part of a pre-established Integrated Lean Project Delivery team working together for over six years as the Advocate Outpatient Collaborative. HDR had worked with the team in the planning, design and delivery of over 30 outpatient centers for Advocate Aurora Health throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, working together on every project and sharing in both the risks and rewards. Integrated Project Delivery is not new, but it is being improved with every new project. In an emergency situation such as a pandemic, these teams are uniquely positioned to act quickly and deliver design solutions that can help save lives.

The collaborative tenure of this close-knit team had several critical advantages. Their process for delivering a scalable, repeatable building type—the 30 outpatient centres—set a precedent for the standardized approach used on the surge facilities. While many design firms and contractors were negotiating to establish teams as well as pandemic responses, this team was ready to implement immediate solutions. The mature culture—bound by trust, transparency and teamwork—allowed the Advocate Outpatient Collaborative to pivot instantly and focus on action.

 In all of these cases, the pandemic showed the importance of having a resilient internal infrastructure. As a design firm, our in-house expertise, pro-bono arm, IPD teams, and established relationship with clients allowed us to move quickly to deliver innovative and timely solutions. These components of our practice had been established long before the pandemic, and will last long after.


This article is part of our Pandemic Effect series. Our complete list of experts in this series includes:

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