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POE: An Invaluable Tool

Studies show that most humans spend about 93% of their life indoors. Nearly 87% of that is inside buildings and the rest of the 6-7% is spent in automobiles for commuting. People design and decorate their houses as a place of refuge from their daily routines, stresses and sadness same as their offices or work desks in a way that helps them to feel at home. Employers encourage their employees to do that same thing and in many cases, help provide such an atmosphere because they know the benefit of employees who are comfortable in their workspace: higher productivity and efficiency. In general, owners utilize elements such as design and materials for exterior; and furniture, colors, lighting on so on as interior elements to achieve this goal.

For instance, the combination of warm and active colors like red or yellow with uncomfortable furniture and more energetic background music in fast foods would make consumers feel happy and vibrant, encouraging them to move from one space to another. While in a more traditional restaurant, dimmer light paired with very comfortable furniture, lighter colors and soft background music encourages consumers to stay and enjoy their time. Everyone has experienced these environments throughout their life, but it seems when it comes to healthcare not everyone has a similar perception. This provokes the questions, “why is that?”, “why are they different?” and “how can we change this?”.

For so long, the feeling has been that hospitals and other places that provide patient care are depressing. Many patients didn’t want to stay overnight, and likewise many family members or relatives felt the same due to the harsh atmosphere. Hospitals, clinics, senior living and many other health-related places have a similar atmosphere translating to unwelcoming, unhealthy or unhappy places for their users which takes us back to the earlier question of “why is like that?”.

The perception of owners, staff, doctors and many other stakeholders previously was in essence that places like hospitals were, in a word: “cold”. Hence, this would explain why there was almost zero effort towards such places to make them beautiful or comfortable. The thing that mattered most was to have a functional building. Later, through experiences and studies, people understood that besides treatment and technology there are other factors such as hope and happiness that enable patients to recover faster or even overcome a disease and enjoy a longer and happier life. As a result, other sectors started to understand the importance of design in these environments.

However, there were/are designers or architects without experience in hospitals, surgical suites, emergency rooms who began designing these environments. Similarly, there were many that haven’t walked in any senior assisted living and have done the same. There is no doubt that they put a lot of effort in their design to build a wonderful and comfortable building and environment for users, but ultimately weren’t successful and failed due to lack of perspective and experience.

The result?

After a few years, owners had to invest more money to fix and improve a very recently updated or new building. Learning from past mistakes and other experiences helps prevent such situations. A very common, useful tool and practice that helps designers, owners or even developers to benefit from previous projects is called the “Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE)”. Through POE, we can test our theory and design, we can evaluate the building’s performance and its relationship with its users. We can examine our building to understand the flaws to improve them for future projects. POE not only works for healthcare environments and buildings but also for any other types.

One method of POE study is self-observation. Walking around a building, sometimes we see there are windows with their shades is always closed. For instance, most patient rooms have windows as they are a source of natural light and view to outside bringing happiness, color and hope to the room. However, you may find those windows closed. Imagine if the window is located such that the sun glares in, or glare from other rooms becomes bothersome for their users. As a result, the shades are kept down during the day to prevent glare and remain closed at night for privacy. This simple example demonstrates that although there is window in the room, it doesn’t work in the way that it was designed to. Consequently, it essentially seems as though there is no window in the first place and the hospital has been charged extra.

Other examples include when a surveyor interviews staff or even patients and realizes how much patients are dependent on others. With this information, designers and architects with help of doctors and nurses start looking for solutions to help patients gain more independence. A simple approach is to help them to gain more confidence. This creates a snowball effect – even the smallest bit of progress encourages more independence and progress. The easy solution to encourage patients to get out of bed and ambulate on their own is to make their room and department completely accessible and equipped with necessary items such as grab bars to help patients to walk around their room independently.

Engaging with others and having group activities, spending time outside, having a fresh air and looking at greenery are all invaluable sources of hope and happiness. Encouraging people to spend time outside mitigates depression and sickness and enhances their process of getting better both mentally and physically. However, many healthcare buildings have limited gathering areas and are restricted for activities. They even have limited outdoor access for different activities. There are times they don’t have enough man power to look after patients or vise versa, the patient’s condition prevents them from getting outside. It is on the designer to study all probable conditions and with that information provide the best and most efficient space for both owner and users. Sometimes providing a conditioned space such as a green house is a viable solution to bring the outside, while another option is elevating a gathering space above street level to have a more relaxing and quiet view to both blue sky and greenery.

In the end, POE is not just for healthcare and it is not only after the building is occupied. This is a tool that can be used in all building sectors including educational, commercial and so on and helps design times before designing a building and prior to occupancy as well. The surveyor looks at buildings through a different lens, taking advantage of information to influence future projects. Regardless of building typology, the goal is always the same: designing a high-performance building with higher levels of user satisfaction.

 

— Contributed by Ardavan Tookaloo