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Healthcare facilities vary greatly from small town general practitioner offices to major hospitals in large cities. The architecture of healthcare facilities provides unique challenges to a Healthcare Architect. It is not necessarily an industrial or commercial space, yet it does contain some of the characteristics of a hotel and retail space as a service provider. Difficulties include the accommodation of large specialised equipment, security, large volume of human traffic, navigation through the building and many more factors.
Healthcare Facility Architectural Design - A Broad Perspective
Healthcare architecture requires consideration of design from some unique perspectives. Not only does it need to be functional for staff to provide a vast array of services efficiently, it is also important to think of the design from the perspective of the patient/client. Frequently, healthcare facilities are thought of more as a place of illness, and less as a place of healing or wellbeing. Healthcare architecture addresses this issue with designs to promote the alternative feeling. The use of open spaces, natural light, bright colours, themed art and greenery all contribute to a feeling of well-being.
Healthcare facilities tend to have a ‘front of house’ and a ‘back of house’. Front of house is where patients first arrive, are greeted and checked in for their appointment. Back of house is where the treatment/service is undergone and the design aspects of each are usually very different. This aspect also requires security concepts to restrict access where necessary.
Complications arise when each room has a unique function. Each function needs to be understood by the architect in order to perfectly design each space for its purpose.
Healthcare Facility Architectural Design - Exterior
As a hub of healthcare in a community, it is important for the exterior design to blend into the community and surrounding area. Convenient, welcoming, clearly marked entrances are important and help prevent anxiety from what could already be a stressful situation. Large, bright entrances prevent the feeling of confinement.
Parking facility design is important considering many patients/clientele may not be able to walk a long distance to the entrance. Is a drop off zone required? A quiet outdoor relaxation area could be an excellent addition to help relieve anxiety.
Healthcare Facility Architectural Design - Interior
The lobby of a healthcare facility should be open and bright with comfortable furniture making it more homely. Making a space more homely helps relax the patient with a feeling of home. Attractive art catches the eye and entertains while waiting.
After entering a healthcare facility, frequently the most stressful part is navigation of the building, particularly if the building is large. One preventative design feature is a manned reception in clear view of the immediate entrance where staff can be easily accessed for information and assistance. Alternatively, a digital information point with maps and directions. Beyond this point, clear signage and minimizing the number of directional choices that have to be made is an excellent way of combating disorientation.
When possible, natural light should be transferred as deep into the building as possible keeping in mind the need for privacy. Frosted glass is an excellent material for this purpose.
Healthcare Facility Architectural Design - Materials
The materials used in the design of a healthcare facility is not as simple as in other design categories like retail. Materials are important for style but also for function. Many surfaces need to be sterilized frequently and thus cannot be of the type of material that harbours bacteria or viruses. As an example, porous materials are not suitable for areas requiring sterilization due to the minute cavities just below their surface that are not easily accessible by disinfecting chemicals. This is why tile, stainless steel and synthetic material with a smooth finish is so common in medical facilities.
Other materials that need to be considered are to accommodate specialised equipment. Medical imaging such as an MRI unit, requires special design for the room’s structural material. As an MRI is a very powerful magnet, the use of magnetic materials is prohibited within a certain distance. Also, due to the weight of the system, the floor must be able to support it.
Healthcare Facility Architectural Design - Utilities
Power cuts may be tolerable in some industries but typically not in the medical field. The continued use of equipment must be facilitated during the loss of power. A healthcare architect may need to accommodate the infrastructure for backup power for a large amount of electrical equipment. Additional utilities such as plumbed gases like oxygen, CO2 or air may also need to be provided. The progressive modernisation of healthcare is eliminating paper in favour of digital information. As a consequence, wireless internet may not always be achievable due to thick walls or screening for specialised equipment, so hardwiring in many locations must be considered.
Healthcare Facility Architectural Design - Future Expansion
With demand on healthcare predicted to increase, healthcare facilities are likely to become overwhelmed without some method of expansion. If possible, a healthcare architect should provide provisions to allow future expansion of a facility and it’s utilities. Whether upward or outward, expansion requires a vision of the future and preplanning for this makes it easier to do when the time comes. In situations of budgetary restraints, growth in stages is an attractive concept and can be built into architectural designs.
As you can see, healthcare architecture is a specialist field with considerations of many factors not typically dealt with in other architectural categories. Developing the ideal vision of functionality incorporates all of these factors and is the goal of every healthcare architect.
For healthcare architecture at its best, contact Ian Moxon Architect Inc.