Evidence-Based Design Where it Counts

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Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
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Royal Children Hospital
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For millennia, architecture was a method of conveying ideas to the public.

These ideas would be central to the human experience and give us general understanding of a building’s use just from its general form.

As time progressed and people’s needs started to become more important, buildings were built to be more attuned to the needs of the users.

The first to do this successfully may have been Le Corbusier with his Unite d’ Habitation where through a humanistic approach, managed to change perceptions on how people could live in a multi-storey apartment setting. This end user focus is extremely important for a piece of architecture to thrive as it then develops a relationship with said users, who eventually foster the need to take care of the building.

Evidence-based design focuses its energy in stressing credible evidence for design decisions. It means basing design decisions on empirical, replicable scientific research and data. This concept is what allows designers to monitor and model energy use, building performance, and client use patterns over time and continually compare and refine these factors so buildings lessen their impact on the environment and perform better.

The Royal Children’s Hospital is an example of a Melbourne development that has displayed a conscious understanding of the client users using evidence-based design.

Naturally, hospitals have been known for their gloomy and cold hallways. This was a major factor to overcome in the design of the space, considering the building was to be a children’s hospital. The architect here also had to consider the therapeutic effect of architecture and try to develop this into the scheme.  The building has a star shape in plan, which is a bit odd, but this decision allows more than 80 per cent of patient rooms to have views of adjacent park land.

The use of colour, texture and organic form have provided a more therapeutic and interactive space for the children who, as recent reports have shown, enjoy the space and have a more positive outlook which is important in a hospital.

Another interesting design decision was to create a public thoroughfare through the building like a ‘Main Street.’ This space connects the public to the park and houses retail, cafes, playgrounds and even an aquarium. This immediately turns the hospital into not just a destination, but also an experience. Interaction with the public spaces, as well as with the building itself, has changed the way children and parents look at hospitals.

royal ontario museum interior

Royal Ontario Museum interior

Most evidence-based design buildings make use of sustainable energy and water management systems. The sustainability of these projects comes from the holistic approach to design, including their consideration of the environment through energy and water saving initiatives; emotion through the use of colour and context; the physical through the use of organic forms and objects; and the psychological with the combination of these forming a positive experience for the user.

Evidence-based design places a lot of emphasis on post occupancy reporting, which endeavours to measure the success of the building after its completion. This is a long-term view of the life not only of the building but also of the design principles behind the design of the building. The design principles, through post occupancy reporting, have the capability of being under constant review, therefore increasing usefulness and adaptability of the design principles.

The amount of well-researched building and user information keeps growing. Studies have been done on prison cell size, colour and texture, and the connection of those qualities to inmate depression and violent behaviour. This is useful data to have when designing or modernizing a corrections facility.

In museums, observations have shown that 70 to 80 per cent of visitors turn to the right when entering a gallery, while surveys of white-collar “knowledge workers” indicate that open plan workplaces contribute to effective productivity.

The data goes on, supplying plenty of usable evidence for designers. There is no single area of design that couldn’t benefit from this kind of knowledge and information.

prison hotel

The architect now has the ability to re-establish the current understanding of relative building typologies. This can come about through utilisation of evidence-based design but unfortunately it is mostly applied to the healthcare and prison categories of architecture, where it can directly help people with a need for regeneration.

That being said, other categories such as commercial or even residential design could also benefit from the techniques used in evidence based design to create architecture that can express architectural ideas and as cater to the more sub conscious needs of the users.

By: Kunal Matikiti
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