Designing the future

Designing the future

Nov 01, 2008

Yankee Stadium is set to be demolished soon, and its 85-year tenure as an American landmark is coming to a close. Built in 1923, it simply is no longer functional, given the changes that have taken place in the game of baseball and in the socio-economic way that current stadiums are used.

Fortunately, plans for a bigger and more modern stadium were developed even as the old stadium faded.

There are architectural firms that specialize in stadium design, creating designs based on where the sport and its fan base are anticipated to be in the next 15 to 25 years.

Likewise, there are architects who work solely on veterinary-school projects. Just as the design of modern stadiums gives good, direct evidence of socio-economic sports trends, the design of newer vet schools should provide a detailed look at what experts think veterinary education — and therefore veterinary practice — will look like in 25 years.

Peering into the future

"It's largely about planning for change ahead of time," says Roy Abernathy of FWAJDB, a division of the Atlanta architectural firm Jova/Daniels/Busby that concentrates on veterinary-school design. FWAJDB has been involved principally in design work for the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, the Veterinary College at North Carolina State University, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University, Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and other schools.

"We are very aware that veterinary equipment, and the physical areas needed for that equipment, are all going to change many times before we even open the school," says Abernathy. "Therefore modern design tries to incorporate flexibility in all aspects from heating and air (changing class size, clinic staffing and patient population all affect air, heat, water and sewer needs) to mill work (walls and partitions that are much less likely to be concrete block, long a staple for vet school and clinic/barn construction, and more likely to be detachable modular designs that provide durable infrastructure but less permanent construction)," adds Abernathy.

He has a rather unique perspective: Raised on a farm, he attended but did not complete veterinary school, instead receiving a degree in agricultural science and then in environmental design and architecture. This background allows him to understand the demands of veterinary education and practice in the context of limitations of space, economics and sometimes-conflicting interest groups, which are the challenges that architects must face.

An evolving process

The actual design process begins as a series of meetings. "We meet with all the departments and programs and try to find out the current strengths and deficiencies of the various areas," Abernathy explains.

Then the relationship between departments and clinical research/trials is evaluated. " Many of the veterinary schools are land-grant institutions," he says, "so they have a responsibility to give back to the public in the areas of research and education."

Additionally, much of the funding for improvement/renovation comes from research dollars, so this interrelationship must be addressed in future designs and ample space and facilities must be earmarked for continuation of strong programs.

"Funding determines, or at least greatly influences, design," Abernathy says. This sentiment is echoed internationally as well. The School of Veterinary Science at Bristol University opened in 1949 and has evolved over the years to meet the needs of increasing student numbers, expansion in program offerings and research themes. It is currently undergoing a multimillion-pound plan designed to enhance caseload for teaching, to provide cutting-edge technology and to improve customer focus leading to the development of a self-sustaining clinical business.

"In the 1980s and 1990s, most vet schools lost money," Abernathy explains. "But by 2000 most vet-school hospitals were break-even if not slightly profitable, with a concentration on new equipment, new and better service offerings and a commitment to working for and servicing referral business".

The initial design

Information obtained in all the initial meetings goes into the primary building design. Attention to flow and continuity determine which departments are next to which other departments— who gets more or less space and what types of support structures are needed for ophthalmology cases vs. dermatology cases, for instance.