March 1, 2010

Staying Alive: Perkins + Will Brings Evidence-Based Design To The Arlington Free Clinic

“Evidence-based design” touts the healing potential of bricks and mortar. “Nearly 1,000 studies indicate ways that built environments influence health,” Tama Duffy Day explains. A principal at Perkins + Will, Day tapped into that body of knowledge for the interiors at Virginia’s Arlington Free Clinic, a bustling nonprofit in a new mixed-use building by another architecture firm.

Since, as she points out, “dollars spent on construction would not go to health care,” she began by sharing research on the recuperative value of natural light and views, free for the taking. (A famous Texas A&M University study indicates that just being able to see a garden out a window shortens recovery time and reduces medication requests.) Further “positive distraction” in the 8,000-square-foot facility comes in the form of the ceiling’s petal-shape gypsum-board canopies and the exam rooms’ calming colors. Patient and staff reaction is reported to be a resounding wow.

Health-care providers have been “a little late to recognize the importance of sustainability,” Day acknowledges. Perkins + Will has applied for LEED Gold certification for this clinic, where efficient fixtures reduce the consumption of water and power. And signage educating patients about these savings may provide still more “positive distraction” from medical woes.

Of course, some design elements are invisible. Extending walls above the dropped ceiling essentially stops sound from traveling between exam rooms, reducing the transmission of patient anxiety. That’s yet another example of the innovation that’s allowed Perkins + Will’s health-care practice to hold steady during the current market downturn.

Photography by Ken Hayden.

 Jonathan Hoffschneider; Jamie Huffcut; Richard Adams; Marian Danowski; Lori Geftic; Matthew Degeeter; Rachel Conrad

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