Integrating Research into Healthcare Design

A focus on research and data can help reshape the future of healthcare facilities and provide better community service.

Designing effective health and wellness facilities in these rapidly evolving times requires a foundation in data that’s reliable, evidence-based and actionable. Design research is the element that will help make well-planned healthcare facilities more efficient, more innovative and more responsive to the community.

“Our job is to elevate the human experience, health and wellness, and performance of the buildings we design,” says Kimari Phillips, research manager of LPAred, LPA’s research team. “By investigating research across a wide range of disciplines, asking the right questions of the right people at the right time and sharing what we learn, we can help designers and clients make informed design decisions.”

On project after project, LPA’s research team is playing a pivotal role in helping develop better facilities that serve the projects’ communities in different ways and positively influence how the designed environments impact occupants’ feelings and behaviors in the spaces. Their exploration of wide-ranging topics such as the use of daylight and views, access to nature, respite spaces and wayfinding strategies leads to more informed designs that have changed the tenor of the firm’s work.

On many projects, research helps to integrate and link the work of LPA’s diverse design disciplines. It connects the firm’s engineering, landscape and interior design expertise across our different practices, such as education, workplace and sports and recreation, in addition to healthcare.

“LPAred helps our architects and designers become better informed, avoid assumptions and understand the key drivers of project success,” says architect Kelly Angell, LPA Managing Director. “Ultimately, they provide a richness of detailed insights that give us a deeper understanding of how we can apply the most fitting solutions for our clients.”

Here are examples of how research has affected the designs of four current projects.

Research Into Healthcare Redding Rancheria

Redding, California

Redding Rancheria Tribal Heath Village

When the Redding Rancheria tribe commissioned LPA to design a 140,000-square-foot, three-story integrated health and wellness facility in Northern California, LPAred knew it first had to understand the history and culture of the community. The team turned to visioning charrettes, rapid-fire meetings including all the stakeholders, highly focused on developing a common vision.

Research Into Healthcare Redding Rancheria2 Research Into Healthcare Redding Rancheria3

“These interactive meetings and other research, including stakeholder surveys, gave us invaluable perspective about the Redding Rancheria tribe’s culture and way of life,” says project designer Ozzie Tapia. “We learned about their values and their great respect for the land and its resources.”

The data informed the design approach from the chosen healthcare model to the way the building is sited near Clear Creek with views of Mt. Shasta — natural features integral to the tribe’s culture.

We learned about their values and their great respect for the land and its resources.

Research Into Healthcare Irvine Hospital

Southern California

Hospital Expansion

A Southern California healthcare provider challenged the firm to embrace the future of healthcare environments. A traditional approach – a tower surrounded by a vast parking lot – would not achieve the hospital’s long-term goals.

Initial research led to the master plan concept of a “wellness village,” focused on the importance of a connection to nature in healthcare outcomes. The process flipped the model and concentrated on patient- and physician-based design over the traditional focus on efficiency for transport and support departments.

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At the building scale, LPAred assisted in the research of various medical planning concepts, including different strategies for stacking the surgical floors to optimize patient outcomes and decrease travel distances for caregivers, as well as improve the overall patient/staff experience. The data on work habits helped inform LPA’s design, which fosters collaboration across disciplines and specialized medical institutes on the healthcare campus.

“Our research findings informed the design at multiple scales from the master-plan level down to the patient room,” says project designer Casey Chapin.

LPAred also provided insight into the cultural trends in the community served by the hospital. For example, the team worked to understand the unique healthcare needs, customs and preferences of the region’s large and diverse Asian-American population, Phillips says. The research highlighted the need to provide an inclusive adaptable birthing platform that supported a range of expectations and preferences around traditions and family participation.

Research Into Healthcare Bienvivir1

San Antonio, Texas

Bienvivir Senior Healthcare Facility

A new senior care facility in San Antonio presented an opportunity to help develop a new, human-centered standard for facilities serving older adults. Studies focused on exposure to nature as a way to boost health and well-being. Bienvivir wanted to develop a facility that supported a more restorative environment for a range of participants receiving different levels of care.

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“Our research team highlighted proven, study-supported strategies so Bienvivir could make the best decision about the direction they wanted to take,” LPA project architect Federico Cavazos says. Research helped confirm the restorative role indoor environments play when they replicate the fundamental qualities of being in nature or outside. “They actually help us recover from mental fatigue,” Cavazos says.

The final facility design focuses on higher ratios of wood in rooms, as well as views of trees and nature, instead of nondescript walls. Windows were thoughtfully designed to look out on a garden instead of the parking lot. “This was a great example of how we can translate insight to actionable design solutions,” Cavazos says.

Research Into Healthcare Tahoe1

Truckee, California

Tahoe Forest Health System

Tahoe Forest Hospital’s new master plan was a widely discussed topic in Truckee, a city of 17,000 in the Sierra Nevada mountains. “They realized they needed more stakeholder engagement to inform the master planning process,” Phillips says.

Team members reached out to different segments of the community, including former patients and former staffers. Data was collected from three broad stakeholder groups: patients and family members, employees and volunteers, and community groups and neighbors. Research methods included surveys, site-awareness walks and, during the pandemic, virtual community workshops. Questions focused on topics ranging from service access and the drop-off zone to wayfinding and adjacent land use.

LPAred eventually garnered input from more than 700 community participants.

“This input provided valuable insight about the community’s priorities,” Phillips says.

Research helped inform the eventual master plan design for this important mountain-community healthcare hub. The design focused on increasing the density of the campus, while also improving the arrival and wayfinding experience, vehicular and pedestrian circulation and connection to the surrounding community, with its abundant natural beauty.

In each of these four projects, the common thread was an approach that made research and exploration core parts of the process. Research, tailored to each project, helped inform and improve the designs, support the client and team decisions and ensure that well-designed spaces would become well-utilized spaces.