Vestibules are often an overlooked yet crucial aspect of hospital design. They’re a visitor’s introduction to a facility. When they’re well designed and work right, visitors barely notice them as they walk through. But when they don’t work right, everyone notices.

A vestibule’s main purpose is to provide a climate buffer zone between inside and outside—keep the cold air out in winter and hot air out in summer. They also serve as mini waiting rooms where patients can await pickup, places to kick off snow or shake off rain, sites for wheelchair storage, or even areas to store shovels for quick snow clearance.

Basic vestibule design consists of an outer glass door and inner glass door, inset floor mats, a zoned air conditioning unit, and sometimes a waiting bench. This seems easy enough to design. But when vestibules are poorly designed, issues usually relate to thermal complaints (such as cold air reaching the reception desk or waiting room), lack of distance between doors, and timing between automatic outer doors closing and automatic inner doors opening.

Here are a few functional strategies for vestibule design:

Door positions: Consider either using a revolving door for the outer door or staggering the door positions to prevent temperature transfer from outside to inside.

Distance: Space is always a premium in cost-conscious healthcare construction, yet the size of the vestibule impacts the temperature transfer and visitor/staff comfort. National codes require 7 feet between doors. In colder climates, however, we recommend 10 to 15 feet to provide a greater buffer distance between doors.

Reception desk: A common complaint is cold air reaching the reception desk. Yet a recent post-occupancy evaluation HGA conducted indicated that the lobby configuration and mechanical-system air flow were the main factors impacting comfort—not necessarily distance from front door to desk. A vestibule is part of an integrated design process—not an add-on—so all space adjacencies need to be considered.

Security: Include proper lighting, cameras, and an emergency phone so visitors feel secure when waiting in a vestibule.

Welcoming: While vestibules are fairly utilitarian, they’re an important part of the hospital design and patient experience. They should project a welcoming presence through ample lighting, clean materials, clear signage, and possibly a valet desk to help visitors come and go.

Vestibules are the first and last space visitors encounter at the hospital, so making sure it functions properly is a key to your customer having a positive experience.