Optimizing efficiences in design

Virtual realty equipment allows renderings to be experienced in immersive 3-D views.

Mary Morissette, FAIA LEED AP
Principal, Hord Coplan Macht, Denver

In health care design, it is critical for project stakeholders to participate in development of the functional space program, articulating required adjacencies and how facility use and operations must be integrated with space planning. Defining how spaces will be used, how they relate with other spaces and ultimately how they will be designed, are necessary initial conversations in the project process. Key contributors must have the opportunity to be involved in initial planning discussions and review the design as it evolves from conceptual to detailed. It is important that experienced health care architects guide conversations to obtain operational information from the stakeholders that will influence the design.

A collaborative approach with the following key stakeholders, detailed knowledge of health care facilities and operations, along with careful planning can expedite the design and construction process, reduce costs, improve operations and create a valuable consensus among those who will be utilizing the spaces.

Key stakeholders include patients/family, owners, operations, administration, clinicians, facilities staff, clinicians and donors.

Understanding and including facility operations and patient flow in initial programming discussions helps the design team address critical issues that might be missed without experience and detailed knowledge of health care planning and design. As an example, critical to the design of successful contemporary facilities is the enormous impact of information technology and electronic medical records. The space required to support and accommodate these essential systems must be addressed early in the design phase so that adequate square footage is allocated. Supporting infrastructure requirements, such as power, cooling and cable lengths also must be identified in the initial stages with physical requirements addressed. In addition to identifying the physical space requirements to support these IT systems, the design team must understand how work flows may change due to the use of technology by the health care delivery team, as these changes impact physical space. Through the use of technology, we have seen that rooms can be truly multifunctional, eliminating the need to build redundant spaces.

Once the programming, planning and design are advanced to a degree that room layouts, infrastructure and equipment are defined, we like to utilize digital technology for visualization as a helpful tool in the design process. Our goal is to help stakeholder groups envision and evaluate how the space will look, flow and function long before it’s built. We find 3-D graphics, animation and virtual reality are all excellent methods to evaluate and test the design.

In today’s design process, 3-D renderings and animations are fairly common. However, the use of virtual reality is revolutionizing how end-users can experience spaces while the design is still in digital format. Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of a 3-D image or environment. It allows the viewer to immerse themselves within the space, attaining a holistic understanding of spatial relationships. VR has the ability for full body motion tracking to test work flows and experience real-time adjacencies of the work spaces, rooms or even entire floors. Other sensory elements such as sound can be incorporated into the experience.

As virtual reality is advancing, there is the ability for multiple users to experience the spaces concurrently and discuss design successes and what may need to change. It is an exciting time in the advancement of this technology and impacts on planning and design.

Functional efficiency is essential in today’s health care facilities. It is important to start the design process with accurate quantitative and qualitative information. This can only be obtained by thorough evaluation of existing operations and future stated goals by those who ultimately use and maintain the facility. Once this information is garnered, it is important that end users can visualize how the design meets their stated objectives. This helps ensure the built version is delivered as anticipated.  Operational and planning expertise coupled with digital technology go hand-in-hand to assist health care organizations optimize their facilities.

Through our evolution of health care design processes over the past 40 years, we believe we must adapt to meet contemporary project delivery methodologies, including embracing technology in our processes. At the same time, we continue to rely on traditional methods, including deliberate and engaging conversations with clients, to ensure successful design outcomes.

Featured in the October 2017 issue of Health Care Properties Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.