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Successful Medical Architecture – 4 Key Elements

The basic design of a good medical office should meet a variety of functional and utilitarian needs – it must be safe, economical in its use of space, hygienic, and most importantly carefully laid out to address the needed use of the space.  

The visual architecture of a medical space, however, incorporates the design, detailing, and coordination of an entirely separate range of concerns focused more on the aesthetic and emotional tones of the space, and how those impact its users.

The combination of these two approaches to medical building design, the functional and the emotional, is what creates a truly successful project, and careful consideration of just 4 key elements can lead to a unique and memorable space.  Our recently completed ‘Dolman Oral Surgery NYC’ project is a perfect example of all of these elements combining into a truly unique project:

1. Space Planning – Functional use and simplified visuals

All of our work puts great emphasis on how we make visitors to a space feel.  Nowhere is this as important as in a medical space – especially one where patients may be undergoing an important medical procedure.  Yes, carefully designed spaces will foster efficiency of operations, but just as importantly – the simplicity of visuals can enhance senses of calm and security.  It’s easy for the plan layout of a medical space to quickly become convoluted, as a designer may be looking for ways to accomplish the many requirements of a doctor’s space.  Exam rooms, consults, medical gas storage, equipment closets, among countless other programming elements can quickly turn a plan into a complex maze of angled walls and corners.  At Dolman Oral Surgery, initial plans from a prior team had a similar feel.  The Mojo Stumer team took a new approach and found creative ways to form a much simpler plan.  Swinging doors became pocketed glass, medical gas was hidden in concealed door panels, and the reception was relocated to a central area which acted as a natural break between the consult and operation areas.  The result was a streamlined plan with two main axes, carefully controlled sight-lines, and beautiful simplicity.   All visitors would now enter into a carefully laid out space, immediately understand their surroundings, and most importantly, the ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ (read, ‘bloody’ and ‘not bloody’) sections of the plan were fully separated from one another.  

2. Color and tone

Color and material selection are critical for any project – but they can be especially impactful in a medical environment.  It is common to see brighter colors in a pediatrics area, and more muted natural tones in adult-oriented facilities.  Wood veneers and soft wallpapers can enhance a waiting area, while also instilling a similar sense of calm as achieved through the space planning described above.  Taking this further, some spaces can utilize color and tone to encourage an even more specific emotional response from visitors.  In Dr. Dolman’s office, the goal from the beginning was to create a space that felt highly efficient, professional, and completely state-of-the-art.  Patients coming in for Oral Surgery would immediately sense the concepts of cleanliness and simplicity in the minimalism of the lobby aesthetics, and in how that same palette carried through the rest of the space.  Stark white walls contrasted a dark grey lacquer ceiling, with the polished grey and white reception desk asking as a central focal point to the waiting area.  Stainless steel plate detailing carried through the walls and desk as a continual linear element, with custom glass and metal wall panels separating the rest of the space.  All of this aesthetic combined to give patients an understanding of the cleanliness and sharpness of the space – something that would instill confidence in the practice overall.   

3. Light

Light is crucial for any medical environment – task lights, general illumination, surgical lights, all combine to allow the medical staff to perform their jobs in the safest and healthiest manner possible.  Careful coordination is required to make sure lighting is balanced, color temperature is appropriate for the space, and the intensity of all fixtures right for the task at hand (metrics such as foot-candles, lumens, luminous flux, lux, and many more come into play and must be carefully considered.)  Newer technologies help to make these coordination tasks easier, but also put additional tools in the designer’s toolbelt.  Tunable white fixtures for example create the opportunity to vary the color temperature of lighting fixtures throughout the day – whiter in daytime hours to simulate sunlight and warmer into the evening for a softer illuminance.  The successful design of Dolman Oral Surgery relied on another form of lighting which is just as crucial in medical building design – daylight.  With limited windows and a deep space (common in NYC tenant work), it was a challenge to optimize the use of the little available daylight.  To start, the space was programmed to put the exam and procedure rooms against the windows, where the soothing and calming daylight could have the most impact on patients undergoing procedures.  Rather than enclose these rooms with sheetrock walls, however, the rooms were built of full height etched glass wall panels, which allowed the illumination from the tall perimeter windows to penetrate deep into the space and share this valuable natural light into the other spaces of the practice.  

4. Aesthetic / Vibe

Often overlooked, the personality of the medical practice speaks volumes toward how the patients act and feel in a space.  A cluttered consult office may create concerns for how careful or articulate the doctor may be in practice, while space too empty or void or character can feel cold and institutional.  Dr. Dolman’s space is a careful paring of aesthetics meant to highlight the medical precision of the practice, but also the humane sense of personality and connection.  The procedure room chairs were custom fabricated units designed by a former automotive engineer, with the kind of hand-stitched detailing you’d see in a luxury sports car, evoking a sense of the machine-like efficiency and beauty of the product.  At the same time, oversized prints of the Beatles and cowboy-Elvis clad the halls, making sure to always maintain the human connection so necessary in a medical space.With a combined focus on these four critical elements, along with a creative team of designers and architects, any medical office can be turned into an award winning office, worthy of a magazine cover.  View our projects page to browse other successful medical office projects by Mojo Stumer Associates, or click on our contacts page to reach out to discuss your next medical project.

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