The privacy booth design began as part a spatial redesign project at Auckland City Hospital. The project aimed to improve the public waiting area located outside the intensive care unit (ICU) on level 8 – a space where families and friends wait for updates on their loved one’s condition. It is characterised by extremely high levels of stress and anxiety, but often described by families and staff as ‘impersonal’, ‘unfriendly’, and ‘uncomfortable’. In order to develop a better understanding of the space we engaged users of the space and collected insights about their experiences. This research exploration inspired new ways of thinking about the space and how we responded to the emotional needs of its users.
As one of the connections between the hospital’s two main buildings, the ICU waiting area also acts as a thoroughfare for staff and visitors. Due to the large, fixed nature of existing whanau rooms, the space was not suited to smaller families. The large whanau rooms also made it difficult for staff and other visitors to easily navigate through the space. The existing space was cold, clinical and impersonal, failing to effectively accommodate families and friends seeking comfort, privacy and refuge. Visual barriers such as glass doors also separated families both physically and emotionally from loved ones being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU).
The DHW Lab team looked at analogous design fields such as open-plan office partitioning – aimed at creating zones of privacy within open space. Designers were also inspired by the notion of a community park and observed parallels with the role of the whānau area; – a gathering point for people from all parts of society that could be experienced communally/socially or in private groups. The new concept layout relocated the large whānau ‘rooms’ so they were closer to the windows in order to capitalize on natural light and the calming views out to the harbour. The main thoroughfare was conceptually reframed as a ‘stream’ connecting the two buildings, with ‘eddies’ forming quiet zones off the main ‘current’.
The proposed layout creates refuge spaces for both small families and large families who might take comfort in sharing their experiences, or desire to have moments of privacy as small or large groups. The path of circulation meanders through the space, while the zones for smaller families are protected from the thoroughfare by a privacy booth concept . Line of sight through the space is dramatically improved, making clear to families what is actually in the space and how it might be used, while allowing staff to see who is using the area. Practical facilities, such as a lockable kitchenette and a high bench/leaner with a charging function were included as recommendations based on the repeated requests of family and friends staying for long periods.
The booth concept was viewed as a cost-effective way to bring dramatic change to how the environment felt and functioned. The structure was intended to be semi-permanent in its location and configuration – allowing for a degree of flexibility and experimentation in how the whānau area might function, and helping to create an area that could respond dynamically to changing needs and uses. Manufactured using hard, folded sheet metal, and soft upholstered panels, the design intent had been to create a moment of privacy, shielding people physically and acoustically from thoroughfares and open spaces. This was validated by feedback:
Such a different noise quality/perspective. It just felt very relaxing.
So calm feeling. I love that it's quieter and would feel private.