How to Design a Nightingale Hospital to Be Operational in One Month

Five Lessons in Rapid Hospital Construction

May 11, 2020

Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s note: Our healthcare clients are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. We seek to support them as they courageously care for the sick. So we’re posting design ideas based on work with them, in the hope that we can contribute from our base of expertise to help combat the epidemic. From all of us at NBBJ to the many doctors, nurses and support staff in hospitals and clinics, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.


To deal with a potential surge of inpatients due to Covid-19, many healthcare organisations around the world are constructing “Nightingale Hospitals,” named after the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale, in which patients are typically housed in open wards instead of private rooms.

Designing, building and commissioning these hospitals quickly is a major undertaking. But lessons learned from recent projects [download an infographic about the construction of one here] provide insight into how to deploy them elsewhere in the future. Here are five ideas to consider when developing a temporary field hospital:

Choose a simple structure: Because making quick decisions is imperative, opting for a prefabricated shell ensures a hospital can be quickly erected and demountable. For example, a spaceframe roof can be assembled at ground level with a hydraulics lift to put the roof into position. In some cases the shell can be erected in as little as five days.

Care for the caregivers: Provision of staff respite spaces is incredibly important during this stressful time. These facilities may include a staff lounge with views of the outdoors, a space for pause and reflection, as well as staff changing facilities and a dedicated staff entrance into the hospital. Space should also be furnished for changing into and out of PPE, with strategically placed PPE top-up facilities throughout the building.

Ensure patient privacy: Preserving dignity is important to patients, particularly at such a traumatic time and in such a large open space. Folding screens and fixed “wing walls” can create a sense of privacy that helps put patients at ease and enables them to recover faster.

Create a clear segregation of flows: Arranging the wards as 30-bedded units with a centrally placed nurse base and medication facility at the centre of each provides good views to patients. Placing clean and dirty utilities at opposite ends of each ward provides ease of access and segregation of flows.

Standardise for quick construction and easy navigation: Standardising bedheads for acute care, including oxygen provision but not invasive ventilation, is a good way to save time during construction and use.

When creating a Nightingale Hospital, all established ideas about designing healthcare environments need to be rethought. Solutions must be developed, first from principles and patient services to fire strategy and the coordination between the design teams, site teams and the client.


To learn more about how to construct a nightingale hospital, click here to download an infographic overview of a recent one in Jersey. 


How are you and your healthcare organisation dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at




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