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Using Design to Make the “Waiting Room” a Good Thing

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © Marc oh! | Flickr

What Should People Do When They Wait?

How do you design for the function of waiting? Do your building occupants ever really wait? Typically, they move from one activity to another, but it is equally important to also design for those in-between moments. What happens during those “between” moments can really impact an occupant’s experience; thus, as a designer, you can make what goes on inside a waiting room a great experience.

Take hospitals, for instance. Once a patient has gone through the initial phase of “checking in”, then begins the often long and frequently boring wait. Unfortunately, many hospital designs don’t place an emphasis on providing for an optimal waiting area — and that is really a missed opportunity.

Just think of the things that could be accomplished and provided for patients, if only architects would give some serious thought to what patients actually need during this time. For example, within a hospital waiting room, patients could get views of nature or be surrounded by calming colors and pleasing sounds — thus, soothing patient anxiety and stress.

Another tactic that would help patients endure those long “waiting periods” involves giving thought to the arrangement and ergonomics of where they sit. Comfort while waiting is key, particularly for hospital patients who might be in a great deal of pain.

I have noticed that many waiting rooms incorporate televisions which play TV channels that patients can watch or listen to. In essence, this is a great idea — but what about those that don’t want to watch television, particularly when a waiting room only broadcasts news or other intense shows. It is important to realize that there is a difference between trying to distract a patient from boredom versus bombarding them with additional stressors.

Waiting Rooms Can Also Serve Other Functions

So, what can waiting rooms do? They can serve as buffer zones, transitional areas or even learning places — as they receive occupants coming from one place and then prepare them to go into the next. For example, hospital waiting rooms can serve all three of these functions at once.

Here are some examples:

  • provide patients with a place of comfort to sooth anxiety and stress
  • give patients a feeling of safety (knowing they will be receiving quality medical attention soon)
  • teach patients to come up with important questions while they wait (to ask their doctor once inside the ER)

Thus, waiting room areas can be an important link that makes your architectural design work more smoothly for your occupants. In reality, your occupants may spend a lot of time in these zones. If not designed properly, these areas could be your building’s weakest link — which could ultimately weigh down the success of your overall design.

Conversely, the design of your waiting room could be so successful that it becomes one of the strongest links in your design. Don’t underestimate the challenge involved in designing a good one.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

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Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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