This week, Specifier focuses on the burgeoning healthcare sector, beginning with a look at how two consultants are using visualisation software to find cost-effective solutions for hospital design

Users of <a href=Arup’s visualisation tool can select an avatar to walk in front of them " src="" imagecode="75645" />
Users of Arup’s visualisation tool can select an avatar to walk in front of them

Getting hospitals to function effectively is not easy. They are complex buildings used by a diverse community including children, the elderly and healthcare professionals – all with conflicting needs. This task is made doubly challenging in the tough world of PFI as hospitals have to function as efficiently as possible for the lowest lifetime cost.

Modern 3D computer tools make the job of designing and specifying hospitals much simpler. Visualisations enable architects to communicate design intent to stakeholder groups involved in hospital procurement and enable them to see how well the design works. Other software tools allow engineers to design effective and efficient services and specify the most cost-effective solution. Multidisciplinary consultant White Young Green uses a building performance analysis tool developed by software company IES on all its projects. “This tool not only helps us win work but helps achieve financial close on PFI projects much sooner,” says associate director Nick Bradley.

The IES tool is called Virtual Environment and consists of a suite of modules that can analyse a multitude of conditions including airflow, temperature, lighting, solar analysis and evacuation routes. All these analysis models can then be integrated into a single model. Cost information can be extracted to help put bids together and there is even a facilities management module to help with maintenance after the hospital is completed. The latest version, Virtual Environment 5.2, allows for CO2 analysis to ensure that buildings meet Part L of the Building Regulations.

White Young Green used IES for upgrading an existing operating theatre in a Birmingham hospital to an ultra-cleanroom environment. It was used to model airflow around a patient on the operating table. The model (opposite page) indicated there was a good flow of clean air where it was most needed around the patient and over the instruments trolley, and there were no patches of still air where dust and micro-organisms could build up. It also demonstrated that standard operating table lights could be used in this environment as they don’t give off too much heat and adversely affect airflow. The model showed solar gain was a problem so glazing was specified to reduce the gain.

The tool enables specifiers to virtually fit different manufacturers’ plant solutions to condition the clean air. “It enables us to specify components that provide the best physical fit and are most suitable for the job,” says Bradley. He says the effects of different materials can be quickly checked across a whole hospital – for example, the amount of extra space created by using thinner, high performance insulation. The tool also makes it easier to present radical design solutions to clients because the model will prove if the solutions work and are financially viable.

However, non-industry stakeholders such as healthcare professionals can find it difficult to understand 2D drawings. Multidisciplinary consultant Arup has developed a visualisation tool called Realtime to get around this problem. Based on computer gaming technology, it enables people to walk through a hospital in real time to see how well it functions.

An entire £300m PFI hospital development for the St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust on Merseyside was modelled using the tool. Doctors were initially concerned when they saw 2D drawings showing corridors passing through consulting areas but once they saw the simulation they were reassured that there was sufficient separation between the spaces. It also helped reassure nurses that the night-time walk from the hospital entrance to the car park only took one minute and there was a clear line of sight from the car park to the hospital reception. It is also proving useful for determining way-finding and signage.

The tool will be used on future projects to create more cost-effective hospitals by checking lines of sight from nurse stations into wards to maximise the number of wards nurses can supervise. It can also provide a child’s eye view of the hospital to make sure paediatric wards are not intimidating to children. Arup is developing the software so that users can also experience real-time sound and light.

Healthcare buildings