The Liability of Expertise

I recently read Presentation Zen, a great book by Garr Reynolds, and was struck by his discussion of the zen concept of the Beginner’s Mind. The beginner’s mind is not judgmental therefore it dares to question norms, to ask why not? The argument goes that as we acquire expertise, our thinking becomes more rigid and we are more apt to categorize, marginalize and apply overly rigid ideology or process to our work. Especially in the creative world of architecture, this is a liability as it precludes innovation and fresh thinking. It also can cause us to disregard ideas brought up by our client if they come across as “too amateur” So we live in our ivory towers, our silos of specialization. And it’s boring. For us and for our clients. However, we have mutually pushed the design process to this point.

Seen that recent request for proposals? If you haven’t done at least 50 projects EXACTLY like the one that is planned, you can forget being considered (oh, and with the exact same team if possible please). And then there are our attempts at business development that involve seeking out niche markets and super-specialization. A creative, innovative design is a happy accident in this climate, when it should be the number one goal for the whole team. It's time to abandon the red-ocean thinking that pervades our industry and think a bit more about alternative strategies. I am not saying that experience is irrelevant, or that there are not some very highly sensitive building types that require expertise in order to ensure that they are compliant and functional. But, when we let mastery of the rules drive the bus, it’s like failing to see the forest for the trees. Instead, let your experience be what leads you to ask the broader questions, instead of accepting the status quo.

During the planning stage of your project, ask:
1.Who is using the space? What specific needs do they have?
 2. What are you really trying to achieve with this project?

3. Why this project? Do you really need more space, or space that is organized differently? Are there other overall issues with the campus or facility that should be solved first?

4. Where are supplies and materials coming from? Distributed to? What is the flow of patients in the space?

5. How do things need to operate? Does this need to be a separate function (departmental silos), or could a better solution involve combining uses and bringing a larger spectrum of services to a single location on-demand?

6. When will you know you have solved the problem?

Getting Better

Healing is all about time and space, the ability to seek treatment, be open to therapies,medications and procedures.  As architects, we can create the environments in which healing takes place, whether it be a hospital, ambulatory care center, or a place of respite that someone can seek out like a public garden or urban park.  Because, as evidence increasingly shows, healing is entirely dependent on one's state of mind.

Reducing stress and providing inspirational environments creates a context conducive to healing.  Some facts related to evidence-based design and biophilic research from the work of Roger Ulrich that are good to keep in mind for your next project:
  1. Natural light is critical.  Exposure to daylight, especially direct sunlight, increases levels of seratonin, which has been shown to dramatically reduce depression, pain levels, and improve outcomes.  Avoid creating spaces that are cast in perpetual shadow by the building configuration.
  2. Views of nature have been found to reduce stress and neuropathic pain.  The view can come from a window, interior landscaped space or artwork, although the most effective views were those that provided grand vistas.  Abstract art was actually shown to increase stress.
  3. Effective use of the site is important to provide outdoor areas for patients, families and staff to use.  If possible try to provide access to the outdoors at multiple levels, including roof gardens or sunken gardens at basements.
  4. Good acoustic control to mask unpleasant noise (carts rattling, staff talking amongst themselves) and introduce calming sounds like water or birdcalls.
Healing is a process.  Many patients must return again and again to complete a course of treatment.  Aside from not feeling well, just knowing that you have an illness causes stress as one deals with fears regarding the outcome, side effects of medication or testing/procedures to be undergone.  The buildings they approach should be welcoming and regenerative environments, not ones that will reinforce feelings of dread.  Positive environments encourage a positive experience, which also helps patients to lead healthier lifestyles in general.  After all, no path to wellness can succeed if a patient does not embrace and follow it.

Generational Marketing meets Design

Effective design comes from the ability to know your audience and speak their language.  If you don't effectively communicate, you won't effectively define the problem. Different generations of building users have different values, expectations and needs.  Attracting and retaining quality staff and satisfied building occupants requires providing them with quality environments.  Try working with your client to assess the demographics of the building users and look at these tips in the chart below from the Generational Targeted Marketing Corporation to target programmatic elements or design features that might resonate best.  You may discover that providing  amenities like on-site childcare, fitness center or convenience services can make all the difference, or that better break rooms that allow staff to get off-stage and decompress in a stressful work environment keeps them motivated and happy.  There's nothing better than knowing you designed a building that people find enriching to occupy.

Generation  9/11 (2001-Present)
  • Generation 9/11 values fitting in with their peers.
  • Overprotected during their formative years: at home, because of the rash of kidnappings and Amber Alerts; at school, because of school-shooting incidences; and in society, because of terrorism.
  • Will tend to be risk-averse and therefore conformists as adults.
Generation Y
  • Influenced by their brand-conscious Boomer parents.
  • Attracted to brands at an early age and remain loyal.
  • Associate brands with companies that stand behind their products.
  • Brand names also important for peer recognition.
Generation X
  • Market Savvy
  • Demand an honest, straight-forward approach.
  • Expect you to deliver on your marketing promises.
  • Burn them once, lose them forever.
Baby Boomers(1943-1960)
  • The busy generation.
  • Often juggle kids, spouses, parents and jobs, so anything that makes their lives easier or more convenient will appeal to them.
  • They do not have time to read lengthy marketing efforts.
  • Capture their attention in seconds, or lose them.
Silent Generation(1925-1942)
  • Once financially conservative, they are now willing to spend money on themselves.
  • Feel it's now-or-never time to splurge on that big-ticket item.
G.I. Generation(1901-1924)
  • Avid readers
  • Prefer sales by mail because customer service standards have fallen.
  • May have trouble with transportation, so catalog sales are a natural fit.
Source: Generational-Targeted Marketing Group, 2007