February 4, 2014 posted in Planning
Based on Austin Healthcare’s latest whitepaper: “Reconsidering Curved Patient Towers: Pragmatic Healthcare Design from the Inside, Out”
By: Bill Wendland, Director of Design with Austin Healthcare
Patient towers with curved forms are becoming a part of our hospital architectural vernacular. They present an attractive architectural image and offer a change from traditional rectangular buildings. The exterior presentation of the building is less angular and more graceful than a rectilinear plan, while there are opportunities for interesting curvilinear or angular spaces within.
That said, however, realizing that aesthetics has a very strong attraction to designers and clients as well, we might tend to overlook more practical aspects of these buildings. Hospitals should first and foremost, be focused on the needs of the patient and the healthcare providers. These curved building forms should stand the scrutiny of a more comprehensive critique based on these parameters.
A curved design, to take one example, impacts the configuration of the patient room corridor. The curvilinear corridor is intended to be less institutional than a traditional straight corridor by limiting the view to shorter segments. The irony, however, is that visual control for the nursing unit is an important objective in patient floor design. Despite all the locators, nurse call devices and other electronics, it is operationally advantageous for nurses to have visual awareness of the activities in the patient room corridor – best accomplished with long, straight corridors. My first tour through a facility with a curved tower was with a nursing director who was very distraught over this very issue.
The curved design brings with it a number of complications, from the operational issue noted above, to site issues, expandability and constructability. Each of these challenges results in higher costs and loss of efficiency. The idea that the curved building form enhances the function, benefits the patient or healthcare provider, and is responsive to budgetary needs and healthcare resources, should be carefully evaluated before committing to that design.