Institutional Design

By Mary Petrino, ASID, with Vincent Carter, ASID

Institutional interior design involves the programming, planning, design, and management of space used by public and private organizations. Typically, these organizations focus on fulfilling a mission resulting from a specific charter or mandate. Because of the wide variety of institutional projects, designers must have the capabilities of commercial office, health care, hospitality, residential and retail design. Some types of institutional design have become sub-specialties in and of themselves.
  • Educational Facilities: This group consists of childcare facilities, schools, and collegiate institutions. Facilities are often divided into distinct categories, such as "pre-school" and "K-12" facilities, which encompass all levels below college. Practitioners usually distinguish colleges or universities as "higher education" facilities because of the differences in programmatic complexity and size required. Some examples of these types of facilities would include infant and child development centers, public or private elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, and post-graduate centers of higher learning.
  • Governmental Facilities: This category includes city, county and state municipal offices, the judicial courts, federal office buildings and operating facilities, including parks, museums and recreational areas. Offices of the judicial, legislative or executive branches of the federal government, including cabinet agencies (i.e., the Departments of Commerce, State and the Treasury) would fall into this category. Other federal government buildings such as the uniformed military base installations, the national monuments, and the U. S. Postal Service stations would also be included in this category.
  • Quasi-Governmental and Regulatory Facilities: Agencies such as banking commissions, international agencies, and public-private ventures fall into this group. These agencies may have specific oversight responsibilities or may offer public services. The World Bank is considered a quasi-government facility, since it is not required to follow U. S. laws. Typically, this and other international agencies comply with local codes to maintain working relationships with their host government. The American Red Cross, a branch of the International Red Cross, would be an example of a regulatory agency, since it publishes guidelines and offers a wide variety of assistance and relief efforts, including guidelines for maintaining the national blood supply.
  • Research and Development Facilities: This group encompasses different types of clean room facilities, physical plants, research and development laboratories and testing facilities. Frequently, these facilities are part of the federal government, or fall within the purview of government agencies. Some examples would include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), or the National Research Laboratories located across the country. Each of these agencies, as extensions of cabinet agencies, has a mission to conduct testing or research that benefits the public welfare.
  • Transportation Facilities: Frequently operated by municipal authorities or by public-private ventures, these facilities include public transit accommodations. Airports, bus and rail stations, highway travel facilities and inner city rapid transit systems fall into this category. Other types of design involve the aircraft, cruise ships and ocean liners, bus, railway, or subway cars. One example of a transportation design project is work recently completed for the Ronald Reagan-Washington National Airport, which combines airline sales and services, retail establishments and restaurant facilities all located at a single destination point, serviced by various forms of public transportation. It is managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which also manages transportation facilities at Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Issues that have become the focus of institutional design have developed as a result of the design community's response to the unique needs of the institutional clients. These issues reflect the concerns that clients express to designers during all phases of the design process, from initial programming to post-occupancy evaluation.
  • Accountability for the expenditure of public or private funding for the project.
  • Compliance with all codes and regulations governing the project.
  • Conformity with rules and regulations particular to the institutional practices.
  • Durability of finishes, furniture, furnishings within the institutional environment.
  • Flexibility to respond to changes in mandate or mission.
  • Operations and Maintenance (O&M) within the context of the institutional facility.
  • Uniformity in the application of established institutional design standards.
In recent years, some of the most significant challenges for designers engaged in the practice of institutional design include aspects of design that reflect those issues of concern to their clients.
  • Accessible design: With the passage of the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA), there has been an increased awareness for accommodation and universal design. For many years, federal facilities have followed the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, but the passage of ADA made designers more aware of the importance of publicly mandated guidelines. Design professionals continue their vigilance in maintaining universal design standards that uphold the intent and spirit of this important civil rights legislation. The U. S. Department of Justice has been charged with the oversight responsibility for the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).
  • Environmentally responsible design: Public and private institutions come under great scrutiny for responsible conduct. In recent years, institutions have become increasingly aware of the need to be good citizens of the world and address environmental issues. Since most of these facilities are very large and often operate continuously, issues concerning the use of energy and resources come into sharp focus. Many institutions search for ways to limit waste, reduce energy consumption, recycle, and use recycled products in their facilities. The U. S. Department of Energy, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U. S. Green Buildings Council have developed guidelines for responsible practices in these areas. These standards are commonly referred to as the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system for commercial and institutional interior design.
  • Facilities operations and maintenance (O&M): Increased costs for operating and maintaining facilities necessitate specific plans that govern operations and maintenance (O&M) of institutional facilities. Interior designers work closely with facilities managers to specify products that are easily maintained and serviced. These concepts include planning for attic stock of building products, specification of materials that are easily repaired, selection of on-site recoverable furniture and furnishings, and systematic planning of routine "O&M" practices as part of the overall facilities design.
  • Design to support emerging technologies: Rapid shifts in technology have required clients to plan for the future without knowing what the future technologies will bring. Institutional designers plan so that spaces may be easily reconfigured as organizations expand or reduce in size. How large institutional clients deal with emerging technology continues to affect the way their buildings are designed. Figuring prominently into the design efforts are creative use of spaces below finished floors and above finished ceilings as well as continued improvements in the delivery of electrical, mechanical and security systems. Technical drivers continue to be the use of flat screen technology, the shift to fiber optic networks, and the advent of wireless technology in the workplace.

© 2006 - 2019 All rights reserved