Healing Buildings

by RaeAnne Marsh

Healing-BuildingsHealthcare is going through drastic change around the country, shares Angela Watson, a principal and design leader at Shepley Bulfinch, an architecture, planning and interior design firm for which healthcare has been a big part for nearly 100 of its 140-plus years, and she sees Phoenix as an area particularly strong in opportunity. “Healthcare providers in the Phoenix area look at the delivery of healthcare with fresh eyes,” she says, explaining they are re-evaluating how they’re doing things and what kind of facilities they need.

“Healthcare is a complex building type,” she notes. It involves technical aspects like equipment and treatment modalities that have to be coordinated — and are evolving quickly. A related challenge is helping multiple clinicians who share a facility come to agreement so the architect can design the space for “how they do things.”

A recent project, for instance, was to design an urgent care center which supported that company’s stated mission to not have patients wait. A LEAN exercise helped in streamlining the patient experience, and Shepley Bulfinch delivered a product that gave more space for treatment rooms and less to empty space for waiting rooms.

Architecture can also help make people — patients and caregivers and their families — feel more at ease. Watson notes the huge difference made by “tiny little things” like daylight. In fact, she shares that daylight — for patients and staff — is a priority for a medical center she is working on for Banner Health in Tucson.

As the field grows and adjusts to the healthcare needs of tomorrow, Watson says, “Phoenix is able to react a little faster.” As an architect, she says, “We constantly have to rethink the kind of work we deliver.” The talent pool she finds in Metro Phoenix is up to the challenge. “The kind of students and graduates you get in Phoenix is able to look at things in a new way,” she says, speaking from her experience with the healthcare design initiative at Arizona State University that involved multi-disciplinary teams — which included, for instance, music therapy, industrial design, interior design and public health — finding design solutions.

Recently relocating here from the company’s Boston office in part because of her interest in being involved in such programs, Watson says the Phoenix office has grown in the last few years and “is fertile ground for new thinking.”

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