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With a passion for improving the civic realm, design professional Casey Jones has been at the center of some of the most significant conversations about public architecture in the last 25 years.

By Ian Spula

In 2018, Jones joined Perkins and Will—a global architecture and design firm based in Chicago and CAC Industry Council member—after spending two decades overseeing hundreds of design projects for the U.S. State Department. In his role as principal, Jones leads the firm’s global civic buildings strategy.

Like many other architecture practices, Perkins and Will has been committed to designing and producing personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers since the COVID-19 epidemic began putting our healthcare infrastructure to the test. The firm also has experience helping hospitals quickly assess their ability to convert space into infectious disease treatment areas.

We reached out to Jones, nestled in his home office at Lake Shore Drive apartments, for a picture of his day-to-day, some perspective on hospital design and his thoughts on the role of architects in the current crisis.

What does your workday look like right now?

Last year I had 50 business trips, so I was traveling almost every week. As a result of the pandemic, I’ve transitioned from airline to online. I’m still just as engaged in design review, but now I do it with a laptop and a headset. I’m fortunate to live in a Mies van der Rohe high-rise, so there is a beautiful view of the city to inspire me as I work from home.

How are architects at Perkins and Will contributing their skills and tools to the current public health emergency?

Our Chicago studio has an amazing group of highly motivated people who wanted to make sure we were doing something impactful to benefit our community. The team has started producing life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals and small facilities experiencing shortages. In the process, they’ve put idle design and fabrication equipment to use and created an onsite safety plan for those coming into the studio. Other members of the team are working on this at home. They’ve already fabricated and delivered several hundred face shields.

In our Denmark studio, designers created a new face shield prototype that is faster to fabricate and more comfortable to wear. We’ve posted that as an open source on GitHub, for everyone’s benefit.  In addition, our IT team recently developed software that quickly analyzes the viability of expanding space for patient care, so hospitals can make informed emergency decisions. We worked with one of our existing clients in Seattle, an early hot spot, to develop the tool. It is based on the methodology they were using to track how their multi-campus hospital system was handling the surge. We are refining it and exploring how to make it more applicable and scalable for other needs.

Perkins and Will is a leader in hospital design. Can you give an example of how hospital design can anticipate a sudden spike in patients or an outbreak of infectious disease?

Our healthcare team would be best to provide more design details, but there are a few key points that I can speak to at Rush University Medical Center—also discussed in a recent Washington Post article—which was designed specifically with pandemics in mind.

First, the ambulance bay can be, and has been, refashioned into a triage area so infected patients are kept away from others in the emergency department. The bay is also a mass decontamination area, which prevents water used to wash infected patients and ambulances from entering the city’s wastewater system.

Beyond that, each bed unit in the permanent emergency room is sealed with glass doors instead of curtains, creating a negative pressure room. In addition, the building’s main atrium has been outfitted as a “MASH” unit to handle non-COVID emergency room patients. This means bed capacity can be quickly expanded.

How can architecture firms keep their footing in this turbulent time and advance projects through the design and development phases when so much of the economy has stalled out? 

Good communication is key. Our teams have been in constant communication with our clients, making sure we are meeting their needs and finding new ways to move them forward despite the shifting landscape. While some industries have slowed, others, like healthcare, have ramped up.

What do you think will be biggest challenges for the design community coming out of this major disruption? Will it be business as usual after a period of readjustment or will priorities and resources shift in the long term?

Design is an inherently optimistic act. There is bound to be a period of economic uncertainty, but our clients are looking beyond the current crisis and trying to anticipate what future needs will be. Whatever physical solutions the pandemic requires, they will need to be designed. It is our job as professionals to meet that challenge with thoughtful responses.