Client engagement in the design and preconstruction process is one key to ensuring the project gets off to a successful start while meeting the needs and goals of each owner. Teams are getting increasingly creative in how they do this. From large-scale, life-size mockups for users to physically experience the space to “stepping” inside designs virtually to “walk” a new facility before construction commences, we are finding new ways to collaborate. The team at Fort Leonard Wood is taking this one step further, blending two techniques to leverage technology and virtual reality while providing physical mockups of the space for the owner, doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff.
The challenge with merging the techniques is finding the right combination and mockup approach that works for each owner, as there are many ways to provide and utilize them. In some cases, the rooms are built early in the construction process; this restricts the ability to make changes to the design due to the speed and schedule of construction. In other cases, the mockups are limited to select rooms such as a surgery suite or exam room, which doesn’t provide an overall sense of the space. Mockups have also been created once design is complete, which would require rework on part of the designer to correct the documents. Doing virtual and physical mockups early in design reduces the rework, supports changes by the end-user, and builds early confidence that the design is headed in the right direction.
PUTTING MOCKUPS TO THE TEST
To overcome the challenges presented by the ever-changing world of medical equipment, JE Dunn built facsimile medical equipment (made from foam) to represent the current industry practices and design criteria to allow the visitors to get full-scale, touch-and-feel review of the room. For USACE to finalize the equipment selections with JE Dunn and other equipment contractors, this mockup phase is a crucial piece in understanding the needs of departments and the coordination with the other spaces and equipment. This innovative approach allows many medical professionals to comment on numerous design decisions that could impact comfort and operation in the new space. For instance, the end users at the Fort Leonard Wood facility changed medical gas locations based on their best practices. Equipment locations were changed to improve workflow or circulation around the rooms. Instruments and other wall-mounted equipment were adjusted for better reach and access. Layouts were tweaked to improve the mother’s experience in Labor and Delivery Rooms.
As the first contract within the Department of Defense Medical to require virtual reality, this project is utilizing this tool to allow visitors and reviewers to “walk” the new facility before it is constructed. The VR mockup is intended to provide the same scale and immersion as the physical mockups but allows for greater access to spaces that cannot necessarily be created in the warehouse. Everything from medical equipment to chairs in waiting areas were modeled for users to see.
Through a combination of the VR headset and 3-D modeling, the guesswork of interpreting 2-D construction drawings is removed, which makes users feel as though they are in the building and allows medical professionals to quickly understand the end product that will be delivered. “It was very encouraging to see how much natural light the new hospital will have,” said Colonel Aaron Pitney, current hospital commander. “The rooms are modern, private, and have so many useful upgrades. The Defense Health Agency team along with the US Army Corps of Engineers took all our feedback; I was especially appreciative of our GLWACH staff who took the time to provide clinical input to the facility. That level of integration will benefit patients and our staff, as well. To date, this tool has proven extremely useful in developing the design details of this project.”
BENEFIT OF A BLENDED APPROACH
Outside of the design coordination improvement, the biggest project benefit of merging mockups with virtual reality technology is the comfort and confidence gained by clients through early visualization of the physical and virtual spaces. Being able to see the project come to life early on increases trust and excitement, and that is immeasurable throughout the remainder of design. In fact, the reception counters in the main lobby at Fort Leonard Wood were revised within 10 minutes of virtual-reality review to improve the aesthetic of the space and reduce barriers between workers and visitors (thus creating a more welcoming environment). Getting the end-user feedback early in design gives the architect and medical equipment planner a better chance to maximize square footage and infrastructure without multiple extensive design iterations. “The chance for up-front input that can change the design immediately is invaluable,” said Kelly Miller, USACE Kansas City. “The results we saw at Fort Leonard Wood were so encouraging—with enhanced collaboration between all parties—that this approach has the potential to change the way we build in our projects going forward.”