Curtain walls and modular building components may not always be immediately associated with interior design, but two of this year’s Architectural and Interior Design Showcase jurors saw these and other new concepts joining some of the more tried and true.

Amy H. Lopez, AAHID, IIDA, vice president, Smith Seckman Reid, Inc., of Houston, and Vicki VanStavern, IIDA, LEED AP BD+C, of VanStavern Design Group, Inc., in Edmond, Oklahoma, represented the International Interior Design Association at the judging, bringing their unique perspectives to the table as the group weighed the merits of the submissions, with 18 considered for Citation of Merit recognition.

While projects were assessed based on accomplishments across the board—from planning and construction to architecture and operations—Lopez and VanStavern shared what they found of particular interest on the interior design front.

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Holistic design
The 2012 submissions presented a new interior trend that technically started on the exterior of some of the projects judged. Lopez and VanStavern noted a more concerted effort toward a truly holistic design.

“There wasn’t a start or stopping point of a curtain wall and drywall finish on the inside; it was that the curtain wall came all the way into the building or the masonry was reflected on the outside and the inside,” Lopez says. “It was a blended effort, versus the more traditional approach of the exterior design being done and the interior design being done, and then they get married together.”

VanStavern says the effect was achieved through the use of materials as well as landmarks within buildings that related to the exterior design, such as central atriums.

“Traditionally, you go into a hospital and there’s a main lobby, and then you go to different floors and they’re all laid out the same, but there’s not a starting point,” Van Stavern says. “A lot of these projects had a multistory starting point that you could get to on any floor and say, ‘OK, now I know where I am.’”


Intuitive wayfinding
In fact, the use of architectural elements as wayfinding tools emerged as a new trend for an old concept, going beyond signage programs or color palettes to guide patients and visitors through facilties.

“By having an architectural element that references a specific place within the building on every floor, you realize in a big way that you’re at the starting point,” VanStavern says.

Lopez says the wayfinding solutions used in some of the Showcase projects focused on a variety of materials, as well, including floors, ceilings, walls, graphics, and lighting that were used cohesively as design elements as opposed to carrying out a specific theme.

“As you move through the building or the spaces, they were treated differently enough that you could understand that you were progressing,” she says. “There was commonality of perhaps the same materials but in different colors, or a graphic wall mural was in the same place on every floor but it was different. It wasn’t relying on a signage program or floor pattern, but using all spaces around it so people could take different cues.”


Operations informing design
Interiors trends didn’t just take into account how patients and visitors are guided through spaces, but also how staff works within them, with firms determining solutions based on those processes and procedures.

“It was interesting to me that especially with things like centralized or decentralized nursing, there wasn’t a right or wrong answer,” VanStavern says. “If it’s client-driven, then what works in one situation doesn’t necessarily work well in another. It seemed like in a number of entries, people really were listening to what their clients needed.”

Lopez adds that she hopes to see interactions between owners and design teams more frequently include discussions on operational considerations, especially if a facility has already conducted its own research or hired a consultant to assess efficiencies that could be achieved through Lean or Six Sigma concepts, for example. This is information, she says, that isn’t always being fully communicated to help inform design.

“That’s not a natural connection for some reason. I think it’s the responsibility of the design team to ask for that information and, if it doesn’t exist, figure out how to gather it,” she says.


Preparing for renovations
Additions and renovations continue to gain favor in place of new greenfield construction, and the types of entries submitted for the 2012 judging mirrored that trend. Lopez and VanStavern note that as these types of projects increase, there will be unique planning challenges that interior designers will need to manage.

Some of the innate pitfalls start simply with the existing building, more specifically with the column grid and MEP infrastructure in place. “It’s hard from a cost standpoint and the construction standpoint of relocating or manipulating,” Lopez says. ”You have to work your space planning, operations, and design ideas around a given. Then you have to incorporate medical equipment and technology needs.”

VanStavern says that when planning a project in a preexisting space, achieving views will always be an interior design challenge, especially in urban areas where another building may be what’s just outside a window. Overcoming these restrictions, she says, will require thoughtful planning for furniture orientation and room layout to maximize daylighting.

Designers will also likely confront ownership’s desire for additions or renovated spaces to blend in with existing spaces, requiring the use of previously established materials and design elements that create a unique space without being a huge departure from the norm, Lopez says.

“But depending on the program or what the owner needs, sometimes a complete departure is required because they want a completely different feel,” she adds.


Modular construction
While the use of modular or prefabricated building components may primarily be associated with the construction and engineering side of the industry, this approach affords plenty of opportunities for interior designers, as well. Both Lopez a
nd VanStavern found this to be the case in the Showcase submissions that explored the concept.

“Some of the more unique things on interiors were modular or prefabricated units to create the interior space, as opposed to a lot of custom millwork or customized architecture, drywall, or permanent building spaces,” Lopez says.

Because manufacturers often assist designers in creating specifications for spaces, Lopez says prefabrication is a time-saver for designers and stands to reduce a number of punch list items.

“With the pre-manufactured items, you’re getting more consistency, so I think it probably allows us to save time we can then spend in the design phase. Hopefully, that creates some efficiency in the specification and construction process,” she says.


Evidence-based design
The use of evidence-based design (EBD) concepts were plentiful on the 2012 submissions. However, VanStavern says, “It seemed that they were just using what we’ve known for a long time. Everyone pretty much talked about daylight, nature themes, and views.”

She adds that the entries largely failed to mention any future studies that would be conducted to delve into design components incorporated on their projects that may help build the base of EBD knowledge. “I think we should be doing that.”

Of particular interest to VanStavern is research regarding the modular and prefabricated building components used and the benefit that could have on other projects, especially in operational facilities undergoing renovations or additions. “Doing construction within a hospital that’s occupied is such a messy, dirty thing, and controlling that is so difficult. The concept of modularity and whole rooms being brought in and set in place makes a lot of sense to me,” she says.

For Lopez, she hopes to see post-occupancy evaluations conducted regarding the space planning implemented to improve operations and performance at facilities.

“I’d like to see more information on whether this really produced more collaboration, or if it really created an opportunity for the nurse to have more access to the patient and therefore better outcomes. That’s the next level of research,” she says.  

Jennifer Kovacs Silvis can be reached at