by Jennifer Kovacs, Managing Editor – Healthcare Design Magazine
When New York City-based RHD Interior Design first took on the project of a new neurology office for Dr. Dexter Sun, President Rhona Hershkowitz says her tactic was to juxtapose the complexity of the medical specialty with a simple design approach to create a serene, calming environment for both patients and staff.
For the project, RHD teamed up with daSILVA Architects and general contractor Unity Construction Development, both also located in New York. The space required a design that not only added efficiency and functionality but that also held an aesthetic at the level expected by the prominent doctor’s celebrity patients, ranging from a legendary rocker to a master architect. The resulting $500,000 project was completed in January 2010.
Working with the space
One of the challenges inherent to the project was the size of the office itself. Within just 2,500 square feet, the design team needed to accommodate six exam rooms (including two acupuncture rooms), the doctor’s own office, a business office, staff and tech workspace, as well as a waiting and reception room. The office was also located on the ground floor of a residential building in Manhattan, a fact that brought with the project a new set of rules and restricted the team’s work schedule.
While improving efficiency was the primary goal of the project, the creation of the maximum number of exam rooms presented a challenge. The team was limited in how far it could take the effort.
“It is financially more feasible to have as many exam rooms as possible. But at some point, the plan is no longer functional. Working with architect Jon Whitney, of daSILVA Architects, we were able to achieve a nice balance of the right amount of exam rooms with an appropriate size to accommodate wheelchair-bound patients and still maintain the natural flow of the plan,” Hershkowitz says.
Creating individual staff space at the new location was also a priority.
“In the former office, staff used to congregate at the reception desk. Now, all staff have their own workspace. When you give the staff their own workspace, it improves efficiency and creates a better working environment,” she adds.
Creating the concept
As part of the serene environment RHD was charged with creating, the client requested that there be a feeling of light flooding into the space. Although there is a wall of street-facing windows, the amount of light that filters into the space is reduced due to an overhang. So there was a need to devise another way to achieve this goal. The installation of a glass wall panel system on the corridor walls complete with barn door closures on each exam room provided the solution.
“With limited use of sheetrock construction, the corridor walls were created with the white glass wall panel system. This was a very bold decision on the part of the client because it is a very different approach. Usually, this kind of wall panel system is used in administrative areas of medical facilities. Exam rooms are a rare application. It was the perfect choice in helping us achieve the goal of letting light flood through the interior space. The patients seem to like it. They appreciate the airy, modern feel,” Hershkowitz says.
Combining aesthetics and functionality
The glass wall panel was one of several ways RHD weaved in aesthetics while also meeting goals for well-used space. In order to create a timeless environment, the firm next turned to the color palette.
“We went through the process of going through different color schemes and materials. The client wanted a very elegant and timeless look. The neutral palette we developed was the perfect solution by providing a lot of complexity in texture but, basically, in a tone that people wouldn’t tire of. In time, you can always modify the scheme in terms of changing the artwork and accessories or adding elements from nature to the interior,” Hershkowitz says.
Another practical decision that had to be made involved furniture and other finishes. For example, the reception desk is sculptural in its design with the incorporation of marble and stainless steel, yet it fits basic ADA requirements for height. While beautiful to look at from the waiting area, the reception desk also houses three work stations where staff can rotate between their own desks and the reception desk.
“I think you have to be single-minded in your approach to the design concept. When you’re designing medical offices or medical facilities, providing for the needs of the patient is the most important thing. We have to find a way to navigate the requirements and provide the best solution functionally as well as aesthetically.
“For example, we needed to provide hip chairs, which tend to be ugly and cumbersome. We were fortunate to get the opportunity to design one and have it fabricated in China to our specifications,” Hershkowitz says.
And while functionality was key, the design team also did its best to address sustainability as well.
“When you’re dealing with doctors for a private medical office, green design is not always at the top of their wish list,” Hershkowitz says. “For this office design, we were able to easily specify certified sustainable products, which fulfilled our functional and aesthetic requirements. We used carpet tile in the corridors and staff areas and linoleum in the exam rooms. We also used an MDF product on the reception walls. This is a very interesting material. It has a glorious texture, but it is also a recycled material that contains no formaldehyde.”
Listening to the client
Hailing from Hanzhou, China, and practicing in Shanghai as well as in the United States, Sun and his Asian background became immediate inspiration for the design team. Eastern elements were proposed to be woven in to create the office’s desired serenity. However, RHD soon found that that wasn’t their client’s idea at all.
“To our surprise, he wanted a modern, airy design concept that reflected the location of this office, in the heart of New York City, overlooking the East River-not the Huangpu River in Shanghai.
“We would have liked to explore a more Asian design approach, but the client wanted something different. And I think, in a way, the simplicity of the design satisfied us both,” Hershkowitz says.
Sun agrees, saying, “My healthcare practice has been enhanced by the efficient use of space, high-quality products and finishes, and overall inspired design. Patients, medical professionals, and staff alike have acknowledged the first-class environment that was created.”
Sun made one final request that also strayed from the design team’s plans, Hershkowitz says.
“The client wanted a very traditional private office and he had already selected an elaborate desk from China. We struggled to find a way to integrate this design vocabulary with the sleek, modern design concept of the rest of the office,” she says.
The team stopped fretting over whether the glass panel system door too drastically offset the traditional décor in Sun’s office and took a step back to appreciate what had been created by following the original aesthetic approach-and also by allowing a little give.
“It’s very, very unique,” Hershkowitz describes. “When you walk through this space and enter Dr. Sun’s office, you are completely taken aback. The traditional style is very different from the rest of the office, but it maintains the same level of quality and attention to detail. I think it’s a testament to how you can make things work when you know you’re not going to change anyone’s mind. You have to embrace it and work with it. The overall result is really amazing.