I can’t help but speculate that the aversion to performing a feasibility study is as much emotional as it is financial. Clearly there is a cost factor that may dissuade the fiscally faint-of-heart- despite its proven worth. However, my perception is that a feasibility study evokes the emotional equivalent to that of having a colonoscopy. Interestingly, they both produce valuable insight to preventable conditions. So, I will temporarily deem the invaluable “feasibility” service to be a “projectoscopy” in an effort to make a point.
To date, the preponderance of my perseveration regarding projectoscopies has concentrated on the costs and savings associated with construction, site development and purchase/lease agreements. However, the emphasis of this article is function and useable space.
We were asked to design a satellite office for an OB/GYN* practice- for whom we had designed three other offices. The history is noteworthy, since we had gained the confidence of the practitioners to act on their behalf and perform the necessary pre-planning due-diligence- or projectoscopy. Previous projects with this client heightened their awareness regarding the value of this exercise. Their faith in our ability to ferret-out mitigating factors was particularly significant since the project was for a suite in a new (yet-to-be-built) building; and they had already committed to lease the space. Under similar circumstances, the requisite response that former clients have expressed could be paraphrased as, “I don’t need no stinkin’ feasibility study”. “It’s a brand new building. What could go wrong?” The fact is, much!
Logically, by all expectations there shouldn’t’ be any issues with a new building. But as it turns out, there were many. For the sake of focus, I will limit the review to the physical plant and the available space.
The architectural firm that had designed the building provided the attached plans of the subject suite to us. Upon review, we noted that, in addition to the “horseshoe” configuration imposed by the stairwells, lobby and elevator hoistway at the front and rear entrances, the center core of the suite was profoundly encumbered by: structural columns, two separate HVAC supply/return ducts and a roof-access ladder. The collective impositions created two factors.
- The useable space, which is calculated by perimeter measurement, did not account for the losses associated with the noted, internal obstructions. Additionally, it was determined that the advertised square-footage of the suite referred to “leaseable” space, not “useable” space. Although this is standard practice, in accordance with BOMA (Building Owners And Managers Association) it is not always clear to the lessee that “leaseable” space includes half the thickness of the perimeter walls. Collectively the net loss was approximately 200 square feet. So, before we even began the planning process, we were dealing with a deficiency in the perceived “available space”.
- The encroachment of these obstructive elements created an enormous challenge for functional use of the suite. The horseshoe condition alone created potential “dead-ended corridors”- a distinct life-safety code violation. This condition was profoundly exacerbated by the encroachment of the respective components on the central core of the suite, and the ability to maximize function, flow and life-safety code compliance. Without implementing considerable changes, the project was virtually impossible to develop to meet the client’s needs. The referenced challenges are depicted in the “existing conditions” drawing below.
We first approached the architects and expressed the benefits of relocating the roof-access ladder to the stairwell. They were receptive and agreed to that change. We then met with the mechanical engineer and proposed the noted changes in duct chase locations, as shown below. Again, our proposal was met with favor and acceptance. On a side note, with respect for the architect and engineer, I must point out that the original layout was based on the expected use of the second floor as two distinctly separate suites. As such, the placement of the respective “chases” was logical for that use. It was simply not accommodating to a women’s health practice on the entire floor.
This project had a successful conclusion, as is evidenced in the finished floor plan (below). Due to a modest investment of time and money, we were able to avert a near-disaster and develop a functional facility. The message here is that the greater majority of “projectoscopies” (feasibility studies) that we have performed have unveiled seriously mitigating issues related to budget, construction and space utilization. The savings in every case has been substantial. But, it is noteworthy to mention that, even if a change is not viable, the discovery of the compelling factors will, at the very least, forecast any implications that the condition might impose on the project budget. In some cases we have actually determined that a facility would not support the needs of the practice. As a result, the clients averted a poor investment in both time and expense. Knowledge is power! Caveat emptor.
- The majority of my previous contributions on design have focused on various phases and conditions related to dental office design. The fact is that we have had extensive experience with medical specialty practices, as well. They include ophthalmology, otolaryngology, orthopedics, and women’s health.
- Space consumed by the duct chases and roof-access ladder created a loss in useable space of 48 square feet. That’s the functional equivalent of a handicapped accessible lavatory. Similarly, it is common to overlook the difference between “leaseable” space and “useable” space. In most cases the useable space actually ranges anywhere from 100 square feet to 300 square feet less than the leaseable space. In this case the combined loss was approximately 200 square feet.