Between Moments - Using virtual reality with participatory processes to design healthcare waiting places
Within healthcare architecture, there is a void of attention directed towards the non-medical spaces; the waiting rooms, hallways and all ‘between moments’ where many people spend extended periods of time under acute stress. Nowhere is this more prevalent that in the emergency departments where patients seek care and treatment for real or perceived, serious injuries or illnesses. While waiting for medical attention, exposure to high levels of harsh lighting, sterile furnishings, chaotic activity and cavernous rooms with others in distress can cause and increase anxiety, delirium and high blood pressure. The emotional experience of such spaces changes based upon a user’s unique sensory conditions and therefore their individual perception of space. The architectural design tools and devices to explore these highly charged sensory spaces have been historically limited to technical plans and sections and rendered marketing perspectival images, which do not fully communicate the immersive experience of these spaces when in use. Virtual reality is emerging as a powerful three-dimensional visualisation tool, offering designers the opportunity to comprehend proposed designs more clearly during the planning and design phases, thus enabling a greater influence on design decision making. This research explores the use of VR in a healthcare perspective, adopting a participatory design approach to simulate sensory conditions of blindness, deafness and autism and the emotions associated with these conditions within space. This approach diverges from a purely visual method of design towards an understanding of the haptic, exploring the critical phenomenology behind these non-medical spaces. The research finds significant potential for the use of virtual reality as a design tool to simulate the experience of these spaces in early design stages.