Most Troublesome Design Shortcomings

Posted on September 19, 2011


An architect colleague and I were talking about an architect’s responsibility to his client. Our discussion morphed into the gray area of design:  an exploration of “street legal” design decisions which an owner has a difficult time living with.

The goal of our debate was not professional “errors and omissions” in hospitals, and definitely not illegal work or code violations, but instances where design judgement was not at its best—and caused the owner or users major headaches or irritations.

Before I summarize what we uncovered, let me couch this ‘design judgement’ question as the philosophical issue it is:  this is a matter of critiquing intent where there is no right or wrong answer. These are issues a good designer handles, regardless of project restrictions, because it is the right thing to do. Here is a short list of categories:

  • Ethical – when a designer knowingly chooses not to do something that is typical or expected. It may be going against a best practice, or simply not providing something that was not clearly spelled out or requested by the client. Example:  not providing any room for expansion in a mechanical room.
  • Inefficiency – poor design on any scale—plan, detail, system—leading to wasted resources like space, money, energy, etc. Example: an equipment alcove that is too shallow or too narrow for the intended equipment.
  • Safety – being stingy or conservative on design components that would provide additional safety for building users. Example:  minimal exterior lighting at canopies, service entrances or the loading dock.
  • Ignoring a Specific Request – for whatever reason, selectively deciding to not do something asked for by the owner or user.  Example:  not including chair rails in patient rooms or waiting areas.

This list is far from complete. I want to know:  what are the most irksome project design decisions from an owner’s perspective?