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Health Information Architectural Design: Form Following Function

Plenty of architects set out to create buildings that will stand out in Chicago's skyline, but it's rare for a structure's eye-catching design to be created solely for the purpose of helping those inside do their jobs more effectively.

The unique butterfly design of Rush University Medical Center's leading-edge new hospital, known as the Tower, came from a group of nurses and other caregivers who were intent on designing patient-care floors where they could provide the very best care.

Rush formed this group to ensure that all voices are heard as the Medical Center replaces buildings that are becoming outdated — some of them are more than 100 years old. Physician and nursing leadership was vital to the project, as these staff members received feedback from their colleagues throughout the planning process about ways to improve patient care. They conferred with the architects, who used the information to develop a striking design that focuses on improved health care — not on creating features that exist for their own sake.

"Collaboration was extremely important in creating the design — from concept to final blueprints," says Mick Zdeblick, vice president of campus transformation at Rush.

Taking form
The top five floors of the 14-floor hospital comprise the butterfly shape, which is readily identifiable as you drive down the Eisenhower Expressway.

"The building design has morphed many times over six years of engineering analysis, but the butterfly has never changed," Zdeblick says. "The butterfly has always stood because it's a great design from the inside."

Architects took the traditional hospital cross shape and expanded the inside corners outward, creating the butterfly shape. This unique shape features four identical wing tips, each of which includes what Zdeblick calls a "patient-care triangle." A clinical workstation is situated at each corner of the triangle, and within the triangle are resources that clinicians require to care for patients, including medication, nourishment and linens. Nurses are able to work easily around and within the triangle. This allows them to spend most of their time in the immediate vicinity of the patient rooms, which are located along the outside edges of the building to take advantage of natural light and great views.

In addition, every clinical workstation and patient room is standardized. This means everything is in the same place, allowing staff to find what they need as quickly as possible. This is particularly important during emergencies when time is of the essence. If it hadn't been for the nurses and physicians who actually provide care in such settings, the blueprint for the new hospital could have been much different, and the butterfly design might not have taken shape.

"It's not an architectural statement," Zdeblick says. "It's a health care statement."

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Architectural Design: Form Following Function

   
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