The Copper Touch

The infection-resistant properties of copper are no secret to Beth Bernitt. As the daughter of a copper industry veteran, Beth understood the virtues of this metal her entire life. As a student, she even spent several summers working in a copper mine.

The notion of using copper-based hardware products in hospitals and other healthcare environments — where infection control is a primary goal — is a no-brainer to Bernitt.

“Hospitals spend time and money applying coatings to their door handles and other hardware to make them antimicrobial,” said Bernitt. “But copper alloy material is inherently antimicrobial.” 

Controlling infection transmissions in healthcare facilities has become even more important with the implementation of the US Affordable Care Act, which specifies that hospitals be reimbursed based on outcomes of services delivered rather than volume.

“Hospitals are being held accountable for hospital-acquired infections,” said Mark Banholzer, a healthcare architect in HOK’s Chicago office. “In every project we design, there is intense engagement with the client about infection control. This includes examining all of the products that we specify and the architectural detailing to ensure that these environments are safe, easily maintainable, and quick to clean and turn.”

To address this market opportunity, Bernitt and Banholzer partnered with Rocky Mountain Hardware in the development of a commercially viable alternative to stainless-steel hardware. Introduced in November 2014, the Verdura line of antimicrobial door hardware uses CuVerro®, an antimicrobial/bactericidal copper alloy registered with the EPA to kill 99.9 percent of infectious bacteria within two hours of exposure.

“Because Rocky Mountain is a design-oriented hardware manufacturer, they shared our goals of creating something unique in the market that has great crossover potential,” said Banholzer.

The synergy between the two firms led to a streamlined product development process.

“We exchanged drawings back and forth and participated in a series of WebEx meetings,” Banholzer said. “The whole process — from introduction to launch — was seamless and fast.”

The product line includes two escutcheons, two lever-style handles and ADA-compliant grips in four different lengths. The products are available in three EPA-registered copper alloys: Rose Bronze, Silicon Bronze and White Bronze — all with a choice of matte or brushed finish.

“This material is stylish and also inherently sustainable,” said Bernitt. “All of the alloys that are available for this product actually come from recycled material and are recyclable.”

She believes Verdura reinforces HOK’s position as a thought leader and problem solver.

“When you come up with a product that has the ability to solve a huge problem for healthcare institutions — saving them millions of dollars with a single investment — it just enhances our leadership position in the industry,” she said.

Banholzer agrees.

“Designers spend a lot of time searching for the right product that fits the demands of a project, and it’s frustrating when you can’t find it,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to fill a void and be influential in the marketplace.”  

Verdura lends itself to a wide range of project types, including residential, corporate, hospitality and education projects.

“We’re presenting the product for some very high-end spas we’re designing, considering it for one of our airport projects and toying with the idea of designing security hardware for detention facilities as well,” Bernitt said.

For Banholzer, the product design experience provided a window into another dimension of design.

“Product design is very different from building design,” he said. “You have the opportunity to refine something that starts as a prototype and is perfected before it progresses into manufacturing. In architectural design, everything we do is a prototype.”

“The really enjoyable aspect of product design is the collaboration that happens across the firm,” he added. “You engage with colleagues outside of your typical practice group who bring a different perspective to the process.”

Bernitt valued the opportunity to share the experience with her father, who previously served as a dean of the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering at the University of Arizona and led the International Copper Research Association. He passed away in August 2014.

“My dad was all over this,” she said. “He had a lot of personal pride and was termendously involved in the process.”