BWBR Welcomes Eight New Shareholders

This week, BWBR welcomed eight new shareholders in conjunction with the firm’s 2020 Annual Meeting. Each newly named shareholder demonstrates a deep range of experience and dedication, highlighting talents and innovative thinking from planning and technical design through project management and construction administration.

Shareholders are active exemplars of service and expertise who, through commitment and ingenuity, empower others to perform to the best of their abilities. The designation acknowledges leadership and achieves ownership in the firm.

The eight employees named new shareholders include:

Now in its 99th year of operation, BWBR is owned by approximately 45% of its employees. With offices in Saint Paul, Minn.; Madison, Wis.; and Omaha, Neb., BWBR offers design solutions in architecture, interior design, and planning throughout the U.S. Recently expanded capabilities include strategic facility advising, operational planning, and design research.

Scenario Planning: The Next Evolution

When the pandemic spread through the United States, it did more that create a care crisis for so many healthcare organizations. It created an existential crisis, one that left healthcare administrators questioning how their organizations were put in the position as well as how were they going to bounce back.

The stewing of those questions wasn’t limited to organizations providing care, as well. It reached those who designed the facilities and campuses for care. As non-emergent services were curtailed or suspended for various reasons that affected operations and finances, the situation caused by the pandemic sparked a conversation that was both reflective and forward-thinking.

“The pandemic really unearthed or exposed us in a way that said, ‘We’ve got to be thinking about this bigger and broader. We’ve got to look at it from more lenses than just normal,’” said David Voller, ACHE, MBA, a senior operational planner at BWBR. “Because, unfortunately, we did paint ourselves into corners, whether that was limiting the number of accesses into physical space, or how we created that flow through space, limiting the amount of storage because we went to just-in-time inventory systems, or how we defined staff to have them work as optimally as possible.”

With master plans historically guiding the development of hospitals and healthcare campuses, the discussions that emanated from this examination spawned a new approach to planning. More than looking at the delivery of services occurring in the facilities, a team of design professionals examined what it would take for organizations to be able to absorb the disruptions caused by adverse events like a pandemic. Scenario planning emerged, and it’s what Voller addressed with Sophia Skemp, AIA, EDAC, and Mike Boldenow, a medical planner and principal, respectively, at the firm, in the latest episode of Side of Design.

“So that was really the genesis, planning for the unpredictable,” Skemp said. “Scenario planning is trying, as much as possible, to prevent health systems from experiencing the ramifications that they went through in 2020 and are continuing to go through today.”

Stressing that scenario planning addresses more than the financial impact that an organization incurs when events like natural disasters, pandemics, mass casualty, or facility threats occur, Skemp outlined other impacts ranging from the experience of care to care access and staff resiliency as key factors influencing the thinking behind scenario planning.

“Yes, it’s about cost, but it’s also about people, their experience of care, the health of your community, and what can we do as designers to make those more resilient,” Skemp said.

Scenario Planning Overall with Key

Contrasting scenario planning with the traditional master planning process, Boldenow described the two in connected terms rather than exclusive ones.

“What scenario planning is doing is evolving the process,” he said. “We’re evolving it to include information, to gather information, to ask questions that help our clients and systems prepare for those disruptions that we don’t know will ever happen. We’re not planning for another pandemic, although what we’ve learned can be applied to helping us be more resilient, whether it’s a mass casualty event, a facility threat, a natural disaster. 

“We’re trying to alleviate the fear of the unknown and move forward confidently with solutions that are really going to be more operational solutions than they are physical or infrastructure-based solutions.”

“So master planning, like [Mike] said, is designing for where you are headed, based on data volumes or where you want to head,” Skemp said. “Scenario planning is helping to make sure that that is still possible, in addition to maintaining your baseline operations. So just helping the typical master plan along the way, that it’s resilient in the face of a tornado. The next COVID, for example.”

Resilient was a word that permeated much of the conversation, looking at the resiliency of operations, the resiliency of staff, and the resiliency of a facility. Applying that lens of resiliency to an organization’s operations, Voller said it allows administrators and managers from across the spectrum of the organization, such as facilities, med-surg, environmental services, and IT, to evaluate how they can respond to deviations from normal operations without putting the integrity of the organization at risk.

“I like the way scenario planning is going to shape a broader perspective. It’s a more holistic look at how we need to be prepared for running our operations and become more flexible, become more adaptable,” he said.

“It’s being able to recover and maintain form while under pressure,” Skemp said. “So, how can your facility maintain operations while under the external pressure of a pandemic, a severe weather event, mass casualty? It’s resilience. It’s the definition that’s at the heart of scenario planning.”

[Scenario planning’s] really an operational solution. We’re not trying to design bigger hospitals with more beds, in the chance that there might be a mass casualty event, or another pandemic. We’re trying to either design new facilities or adapt existing facilities just for that purpose to be flexible.

Mike Boldenow, principal

With the focus on how organizations can be resilient, however those individual organizations define that word, Boldenow said it changes the nature of the conversation, one where space is the tool that adapts to the situation to enable staff and organizations to deliver care through the variable scenarios. From private patient rooms that can be utilized for multiple patients to traffic flows that can be altered to protect non-infectious patients, scenario planning can identify those opportunities to create an operational program that flexes with the need.

“We tried to lean ourselves or our designs to meet a demand to lower healthcare costs, and that had to deal with reducing space and trying to be more efficient, which is good. Don’t get me wrong,” he critiqued. “We weren’t focused on the big picture, and, the big picture again, was the fear of the unknown. We don’t know what we don’t know. 

“But now that we’ve gone through something like this, I think it’s helping us to open our eyes a little bit. This isn’t really a bricks and mortar solution, what we’re talking about here. It’s really an operational solution. We’re not trying to design bigger hospitals with more beds, in the chance that there might be a mass casualty event, or another pandemic. We’re trying to either design new facilities or adapt existing facilities just for that purpose to be flexible.”

“The pandemic was a good reminder that we need to be thinking more holistically, and we have to not lose sight of all these variables that can enter into the equation,” Voller said. “We want to think about how do we keep from getting into a scenario that [causes hospitals] to shut down operations, that puts staff in a position of being and feeling burnt out; that puts the community at additional harm’s way because we haven’t thought about how they operate in that physical space.”

Sophia Skemp, Mike Boldenow, and David Voller co-authored a white paper with Scott Holmes, RA, ACHA, LEED AP, on the approach to and benefits of scenario planning. Click to read, “Scenario Planning: How to be Resilient in Design and Operations.”

Design in the Age of Upheaval

In March 2020 when the pandemic forced the closures of schools, offices, restaurants, clinics, and other facilities, initial questions focused as much on when to reopen as on how to reopen.

Nearly a year later, organizations are still living the massive disruption to lives and operations caused by COVID-19, coupled with the social awakening forced on many through the murder of George Floyd. Answering when and how we’ll come back is now a deeper question: what will it all look like?

“If we learned nothing else during the last months, it’s that we have to be flexible. We have to be open to trying things in new ways. If they work, we have to lean into them, and if they don’t, we have to fail forward and move on.”

That insight from Pete Smith, FAIA, president and CEO of BWBR and a practicing architect, was echoed by others who joined him in BWBR’s first episode kicking off the launch of its new podcast, Side of Design. Smith, along with Nan Langevin, head of interior design at the firm, and Craig Peterson, AIA, LEEP AP, discussed from their various views of design how the pandemic and social unrest of the past year will profoundly impact our lives moving forward.

“Coming out of the pandemic, there will be a higher value placed and a recognition on the importance of the social and cultural aspects of people coming together.”

Craig Peterson, AIA, LEED AP

“What’s interesting is the idea, speaking specifically of the pandemic and stemming the contagion, is that it’s requiring steps that are antithetical to the human experience,” Peterson said. “[The steps] are about social distancing. It’s about being apart, whereas in all the design work we do, it’s about bringing people together.

“The impact of the pandemic is at the polar opposite of what design is intended to do.”

In a conversation whose tone ranged from introspective to excited, the three designers lent their unique perspective to the experience of the past year and how they see that impacting people and places. From the way we design our workspaces to accommodate collective work to the way we design our policies that address the real-world needs of individuals trying to balance competing demands, the discussion often veered to what we’re learning about ourselves, about our ability to empathize with others, and about what we value in in-person interactions.

“There things were fomenting before all of this took place: equity, social justice, climate change, sustainability, wellbeing, and taking care of ourselves,” Langevin said. “The pandemic clearly made us slow down, and people are experiencing their lives in different ways that are good.

“When you really think broadly about the changes taking place, they are all saying the same thing: Let’s take care of ourselves and each other,” she continued.

“We’ve known this for a long time, long before the pandemic, that people have different needs and work differently,” Smith said. “It’s not just generational. It’s life’s stages, too.”

To that end, he noted that, in this work-from-home environment, there is much that organizations are learning about the physical space and even more about the structure of work that makes it more empathetic as well as more beneficial for employees, organizations, and their clients. Take, for example, parents who are trying to juggle the demands of work, their child’s school, and being in a healthy partnership. Trusting employees to do the work can empower them in ways that make that time for work more productive.

“It’s an exciting time to be a designer, because all the rules of design no longer exist.”

Pete Smith, FAIA

“For the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve been working on [gender] equity, trying to make sure that every voice is valued and heard. If a portion of your staff is not bringing their full self to the work, we’re not firing on all cylinders as an organization,” he said.

“Forward to the pandemic…when staff are working, even when it’s reduced hours, they are bringing their full self. When we get out of this on the other side, if we say we are going to give people flexibility to do what works best for them so that they bring their full selves to work, we’re going to be a better organization. We’re going to work better. We’re going to fire on all cylinders, and we’re going to provide better solutions.”

To that, all three said that the way people see the function of space coming out of this time period will change. No longer will it be seen as just a destination for work or learning or to receive services. It will be part of a larger system that allows us to connect, collaborate, and develop the relationships that define our lives in and out of work.

“A lot people really have differing opinions about working from home. Some people love it, some people don’t like it,” Langevin said. “One thing that they have in common is that they miss the people from the office. They miss socializing. They miss hanging out and laughing. They miss hanging out with each other. That you cannot replace that in the Zoom world.”

“Coming out of the pandemic, there will be a higher value placed and a recognition on the importance of the social and cultural aspects of people coming together. It’s not a place to sit there and get the work done,” Peterson said. “It’s a place to soak in the social and cultural nurturing that can happen with shared experiences with coworkers and friends that enhance your life.”

“There isn’t going to be a solution that says, ‘This is what we need to do coming out of the pandemic,’ or ‘This is what we need to do to solve social justice issues,’” Smith said. “It’s going to be a bit of an experiment, a bit of piloting and testing and failing forward and trying different things.”

“It’s going to be a more forgiving process,” Langevin said. “Building in equity and more sustainability, we’ll have more opportunity to change as we go along and adapt to what we all find that we’re needing.”

“It’s an exciting time to be a designer,” Smith said, “because all the rules of design no longer exist.”

Side of Design is a new podcast from BWBR. Episodes come out every two weeks exploring the performance of organizations and the people and facilities that power them. Look for Side of Design where you listen to your favorite podcasts.