Healthcare architecture tends to create repetitive spaces, so it is important to get them right. Whether it is 40 prep/recovery spaces, a greenfield hospital with 700 new patient rooms, or a doctor’s clinic with six exam rooms, we design these spaces to offer similar area and amenities from space to like space. Misunderstandings in the design can grow exponentially since they involve multiple rooms of the same type.
Before beginning construction, it is helpful to create a mock-up room that gives physical life to these spaces. The opportunity for physicians and clinical staff to understand their space three-dimensionally provides valuable, often-missed insight. Utilizing mock-ups is a good idea, though often overlooked, especially when the client is in a rush to enter the marketplace. So what’s the big deal with creating mock-ups? They create opportunities to validate the design that would otherwise be missed.
Several years ago, I worked with a client who had the space and time to build full-blown mock-up rooms — complete with equipment — within a warehouse-type space. Another client requested a full set of construction documents and had their facilities department build the mock-up room within the existing hospital. These clients used their mock-up rooms to offer tours of the spaces to the local community. Future patients were able to weigh in on the design and functionality of the space from the end-user perspective, creating a level of excitement as well as garnering buy-in from the community. Every mock-up provided lessons learned that we were able to incorporate into the final project.
On a recent fast-track project, the client recognized the opportunity to confirm the design before the construction contract was awarded, however, the construction documents were issued and the project was out to bid. Working against the clock of the bidding period, the time to act was limited. We created a quick mock-up room — which was available for staff tours for one week — at the client’s facility in an unused conference room slated for renovation the following week. To test the room’s functionality, we brought in some equipment and manufactured casework; and created the walls from pieces of foam board — just something quick and easy to assemble that provided definitive limits to the room.
When we met with the client following this exercise, there were numerous decisions made that affected the bottom line of the project price. The client eliminated several pieces of equipment from the budget, revised the sink location, and modified the quantity and design of the casework. The client also assessed the usage of the exam table as the patient’s chair for in-room consultations and determined that they needed only one side chair in the space, reducing the furniture budget. They were also able to test out a mobile treatment cart that was determined to be unwieldy to move; consequently, we specified a smaller cart. The outcome saved the client tens of thousands of dollars as well as years of aggravation that would have resulted from a less than optimal design.
So what’s the big deal with creating mock-ups? Nothing if you have unlimited money to spend and are not worried about the functional usage of your spaces, but if you are on a budget or simply want to optimize the space’s functional performance, the time and funds spent on a mock-up — even a simple one — can be well worth the effort.
Written by Carolyn Lee, formerly a project architect with Array.