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Diamond Schmitt Architects: Sculpting Architectural Masterpieces

Matt Smith Diamond Schmitt Architects.
Matt Smith | Principal | Diamond Schmitt Architects

Have you ever pondered upon the importance of strong infrastructure for healthcare institutions?

We believe that the answer lies within the discipline of healthcare architecture and this edition of Insights Care titled, The 10 Most Trusted Healthcare Architecture Companies 2021 highlights the organizations that have designed contemporary and innovative healthcare infrastructures.

One prominent example of such firms is Diamond Schmitt, a global architecture firm designing transformative, purpose-driven, and highly sustainable buildings from its four studios located in New York, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.

In the following interview, Matt Smith, the Principal at Diamond Schmit Architects, shares with us the company’s journey and its contribution in the design of healthcare infrastructures.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Please brief our audience about your company, its mission, and the key aspects of its stronghold within the healthcare architecture niche.

From its four studios located in New York, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver, Diamond Schmitt designs cutting-edge, highly adaptable laboratories for a variety of contexts, from urban medical facilities to university science buildings.

These healthcare, research and innovation spaces are designed to support transformational research, academic excellence, and communal engagement, reflecting the firm’s extensive experience and characteristically thoughtful, research-driven approach.

Each facility is expertly customized, offering scientists and researchers flexibility to adapt to the continually shifting technical and spatial requirements of their fields. Despite the energy-intensive demands of many healthcare and research facilities, Diamond Schmitt’s designs meet rigorous sustainability standards, often achieving LEED certifications and recognized with numerous environmental leadership awards.

Tell us more about your services and solutions which make your company stand out from the competition?

To account for the increasingly complex nature of the work undertaken in laboratories and healthcare buildings, these spaces are carefully arrayed to allow for cross-disciplinary collaboration and interaction. One of Diamond Schmitt’s notable approaches consolidates laboratories located in dense metropolitan areas within vertical structures linked by series of atria and stairways, resulting in increased connectivity and maximizing the ability for researchers to more naturally collaborate.

With designs informed by extensive dialogue with researchers, students, and teachers, Diamond Schmitt integrates elements that promote the physical and mental well-being of those who ultimately use these facilities, such as strategically placed lab benches with ample natural light and showers to encourage researchers to bike to work.

Their designs also incorporate features—from large street-facing windows to education rooms—that create opportunities for the community at large to interact with and develop an understanding of the research being undertaken in these spaces.

Finally, Diamond Schmitt elevates these environments by integrating site-specific artworks and design installations into the fabric of these buildings, from commissioned sculptures to living walls.

What is your opinion on the impact of the current pandemic on the global healthcare architecture market, and what challenges did your company face during the initial phase of the pandemic?

It is still early to predict what the impact of COVID-19 will be on hospital design and operations. Some of our clients have spent the last year contemplating how they will address the system vulnerabilities that have been exposed by the pandemic, such as lack of isolation capacity, critical care bed shortages, and triage and flow management during surge events.

It will be challenging for hospitals to remain focused on these issues as they begin to re-open and address the backlog in elective procedures and perhaps the inevitable health impacts to patients who intentionally delayed diagnostics or treatment out of fear of contracting the disease.

These impacts may be of the greatest significance to the health system at large as they suggest a change in the way that we conceive of the hospital as a single point of care in favour of a more distributed system of services that can remain functional during a health crisis such as the pandemic. Market conditions have been very challenging during the pandemic, particularly as they pertain to product and material availability and related costs.

Key supply chains have been disrupted and, despite directives to remain open, construction sites have experienced significant reductions in productivity due to COVID-19 protocols and reduced manpower. These impacts have negatively affected construction schedules, but also led to delays in the commencement of projects arising from a need to recalibrate budget allocations to deal with new market conditions.

With continuous development in technologies such as AI and big data, what is your prediction about the future of healthcare architecture?

Technological development promises to address some of the most pernicious obstacles to system improvement in the healthcare market. The emergence of big data is improving system intelligence as it relates to population health, demographics, and disease prevalence, which in turn will help Health Authorities to better calibrate services and facilities to the populations that they serve.

Remote monitoring, both through wearable and implanted devices, enhanced telemedicine capabilities and the resulting development of personalized medicine will empower patients to better manage their personal health and help to overcome resistance to following care regimens and interacting with the healthcare system.

AI technologies promise to improve the accuracy of imaging diagnostics and facilitate medical diagnoses, while also reducing medical errors. These technologies will have a greater impact on the delivery of care than on healthcare architecture itself, however taken together they have great potential to reduce the prevalence and severity of chronic health conditions which are a growing burden to the health system.

A shift in focus from complex continuing care to health maintenance and prevention is an objective of the healthcare system generally, as it will allow hospitals to divert capital and operations costs tied to beds in favour of improved diagnostics and delivery. The development of new technologies certainly appears to be supporting this transition.

As an established leader, what would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts aspiring to venture into the market?

The healthcare market is broad and diverse and presents significant opportunity and considerable complexity. It is not uncommon to be engaged in projects that range in size from a few thousand to a million square feet or that require resolution at a basic planning level through to a complete and commissioned facility.

Many projects extend over years, or even decades, as they proceed through approvals milestones and changes in system requirements. Care models continue to evolve and, although there are standards and similarities among facilities, each hospital represents a unique approach to caring for a specific community with a specialized care team.

Hospital buildings live long lives and are subject to almost ongoing renovations and re-programming. Engaging in the healthcare market requires some tenacity and humility – being open to all these various project types and scenarios with the attitude that each affords an opportunity to learn and to contribute positively to improvements in public health and the health system.

How do you envision on scaling your company’s operations and offerings in 2021?

Fortunately, the Canadian marketplace has remained strong. Facilitating the expansion of our growing offices has been a key area of focus for management team in 2020. Business continues to grow with more and larger commissions in both Canada and in the United States. These growth challenges have impacted our operational models and we have augmented existing structures to accommodate the growth of both staff numbers and project complexity.

In terms of business development, we have sought to maintain a broad sectoral and geographic distribution of work that cushions potential downturns in one sector from negatively impacting overall growth. We have made structural changes to our operations that see focused teams target major areas for growth – namely post-secondary academic, health care, performing arts and commercial interiors.

A team-based approach to sector specific work is a new undertaking, and this model is intended to both elevate our position in the marketplace while providing training and exposure for more junior staff to the requirements of business development.



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