Ever noticed that a big hospital can feel like a rat maze?
But if Bob Farrow has his way, a trip to the hospital won’t leave you reaching for your GPS.
Farrow, managing principal of the Atlanta office of HKS Architects, specializes in the design of healthcare facilities to make them friendly, less intimidating and more efficient.
He leads a team of 45 people. The office employs experts in all phases of architectural design.
Q: What do you take into account when designing hospitals?
A: Walking distances, for one. A nurse today’s average age is 50 and walks 2.6 miles on her shift.
Also, lighting. Natural light is better. Natural light in a room results in patients requiring and asking for less pain medication. You get better outcomes.
And energy. Hospitals are huge energy consumers. Saving $1 in energy equals $20 in new revenue. If efficiently designed, a facility can reap a 30 to 50 percent reduction in annual energy costs.
Q: I’ve gotten lost in hospitals a number of times. What do you do about this?
A: Hospitals in the past 50 years have grown to be massive facilities. It’s often hard to find your way around, where to park, how do you get in, and so forth.
It’s expensive to deliver healthcare in those settlings. With better accessibility, you can reduce your costs and have better outcomes. We try to design efficiencies into buildings.
Q: What geographic areas do you focus on?
A: We work globally. We have seven offices overseas. We also have 21 offices in the U.S.
We just won the work for a 600-bed, 915,000 square foot hospital in China.
Q: Is there a lot of hospital building going on?
A: Right now, it’s not about bricks and mortar. Clients are not building. They have had a revenue drop. There’s this pause going on.
We’re going to see less and less of the big institutional projects and much more of a decentralized healthcare delivery system — healthcare embedded in communities. We are going to see more outpatient clinics.
Q: How many hospitals have you designed?
A: We probably have designed 140 brand new hospitals in the past few years. We have found that 30 to 40 percent of nurses’ time is spent on true clinical patient time, and the rest of the time filling out forms, looking for medications. So how we design an inpatient unit can make a significant difference in terms of efficiency and getting patients out of the hospital quicker.
Q: What are you best known for in Atlanta in terms of healthcare?
A: We designed the Emory University Hospital and medical office building in Midtown, as well as significant expansions to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Egleston, Scottish Rite and Hughes Spalding campuses.
We have been working with both Emory and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on various renovation, planning and addition projects for over 10 years. Also, we were involved in designing the new Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge Hospital and a new patient tower at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Q: I know you’re a private company, but how did HKS do in the recession?
A: From 2000 to 2008, we experienced unprecedented growth. We grew from 450 people to 1,600. Revenues tripled over that time period.
Then in October 2008, we saw a major initial collapse of the market across the globe. Projects went on hold or were canceled. In 2009, our revenue was almost half of what we did in 2008. Dropped further in 2010.
Q: What gave you the first inkling that something was very wrong?
A: When the phone stopped ringing.
Q: Did you have to let people go?
A: Yes. We were 1,600 and we’ve dropped down to 1,000. But we are hiring again now.
Q: How much of your company’s revenues are from overseas operations?
A: About 30 percent.
Q: What about healthcare, in terms of percentage of HKS’ business?
A: Healthcare is 60 percent of our business.
Q: How is HKS structured?
A: We are headquartered in Dallas, but it’s like every office is a headquarters. We gather the best people available on each project. There is tremendous collaboration across the board.
Our project experience includes corporate headquarters, office buildings, sports facilities, hotels and resorts, banks, government and aviation facilities, religious structures, public buildings, multi-family housing, educational facilities, science and technology, and retail and industrial projects in 80 countries.
Q: Where did the firm’s name come from?
A: We used to be a family business, started in Dallas by Harwood K. Smith.
Q: Now that you’re doing better, do you have any plans to go public?
A: No. We are moving into our fourth generation of leadership and ownership. There are about 80 or so shareholders in the company. We don’t want to go public and we don’t want to be bought. We don’t want to answer to stockholders or another board.
Q: Many companies ran out of money and couldn’t borrow during the downturn. What about HKS?
A: We don’t borrow money. That’s not to say we don’t have a line of credit.
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MEET BOB FARROW
Job: Managing principal of HKS Architects in Atlanta
Education: Auburn, bacherlor’s degree in architecture
Family: Divorced with two children
Lives: Sandy Springs
Hobbies: Art collecting, abstract painting
Reading: “The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care,” by Dr. Eric Topol