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Institutional Design

We’re often asked, “What is institutional design, and how does it differ from other types of design?”

Institutional design is the design of buildings to serve the public, such as hospitals, schools, police stations, prisons, and recreational/community centres. The design process and outcome for public-use buildings are very different from those for private or residential buildings, for a number of reasons.

Institutions typically have many stakeholder groups that must be considered in the design of the space, including a range of employees, multiple user groups, and taxpayers. A community centre, for example, must function for many different types of users, including children, seniors, and those with disabilities. The needs of administrative, recreational, and maintenance staff must be addressed.

Institutions also frequently have increased accessibility requirements, strict regulatory frameworks, and increased safety concerns; they may also have complex political considerations. There are usually multiple layers of approvals built into the process, and stringent budget restrictions.

Function is the key consideration in the design of most institutions, with each design decision being carefully thought out to maximize productivity and efficiency. To maximize ease of use and optimize traffic flow, everything from the layout of the space—some areas being dedicated to staff use and others accessible to the public—to placement of reception areas, washrooms and seating areas must be thoughtfully considered.

Improving productivity at a hospital for example, can be addressed by considering the movement of patients through the intake process and designing the layout to minimize traffic. Increasing efficiency at a school may mean including multiple access points and centralized multi-functional rooms, while also maintaining security and safety.

Creating a space that meets the needs of each stakeholder group, optimizes productivity—and is welcoming and visually appealing—is critical to the success of an institutional design. Each institution has its own unique needs; through stakeholder consultation and analysis of current and projected usage patterns, a functional design can be built and refined. The finished product is an asset to the community for generations to come.


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