HKS Selected to Convert Expo Center and Correctional Facility into COVID-19 Field Hospitals


HKS is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on two facility conversion projects to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

HKS has partnered with Gilbane Construction Company on a temporary field hospital at the Detroit-area Suburban Center Showplace in Novi, Michigan. The 250,000 square-foot convention center retrofit will treat COVID-19 patients and is expected to be operational on Apr. 20, a 15-day turn-around from start to finish. Given the ever-changing situation on the ground, the total number of beds the facility will eventually house is in flux.

At the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, HKS is working with Clark Construction to prepare a 192-bed field hospital to house and treat inmates who have tested positive for the coronavirus but are ambulatory and must be isolated from the rest of the prison population. The 50,000 square-foot wing, which has been vacant since 2018, requires an infrastructure upgrade because it has no air conditioning. It is expected to be operational within six weeks.

According to Jim Whitaker, HKS Principal and Director of Government and Alternative Project Delivery, the firm is responding to numerous emergency requests for qualifications for alternative care sites – conversion projects of convention centers, hotels and prisons around the U.S. with more than a dozen submitted to date.

“We’re leveraging our expertise to rapidly convert existing buildings to help public agencies and health providers prepare for the surge of anticipated COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks,” said Whitaker. “HKS is uniquely positioned because we have specialists in many building types, including health, public assembly venues, hospitality and education. We’re able to quickly collaborate internally with our cross discipline teams and develop plans for alternative building conversion solutions.”

Whitaker describes a rapid, round-the-clock response effort in which HKS in its role as architect is deploying its deep design experience in medical planning, code compliance, life safety, ADA accessibility and more, embedded with USACE and the projects’ trade contractors, 24/7.

We’re leveraging our expertise to rapidly convert existing buildings to help public agencies and health providers prepare for the surge of anticipated COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.

The 1,100-bed floorplan at the expo and convention center space in Novi, Michigan.

“As a former U.S. Army officer, it’s the vibe of combat architecture, engineering and construction,” said Whitaker. “It’s the AEC community collaborating in an emergency room setting, racing to prepare for the patient. We’re working with the USACE and our partners to quickly evaluate the site, roll up our sleeves and quite literally crank out hand sketches, diagrams and verbal design directions onsite. This is about using our knowledge and skills to respond to this current health crisis to help save lives. But looking forward, we’ll learn from this experience to help our health care partners plan ahead for whatever the new normal will become.”


HKS is a team of more than 1,300 architects, interior designers, urban designers, scientists, artists, anthropologists and other professionals working together across industries and across the globe to create places that delight, heal and stimulate peak performance. The firm has nurtured a culture of extraordinary people with curious and creative minds who are passionate about delivering elegant solutions. HKS has a dedicated research team that digs deep to discover processes and ideas that improve outcomes for everyone. In everything HKS does, it is mindful of the fragility of all life and of the planet.