Balloon Test…Are You Serious?

Posted on July 11, 2012


Last week I read about how a new proposed hospital in Florida concerned some citizens. Basically, the residents of part of Winter Garden, FL want to know how a proposed 60 acre facility design would impact their neighborhood, particularly how height, noise, safety—the usual concerns—will impact their living environment.

In an effort to appease the surrounding neighborhoods of the new hospital development the owner, Florida Hospital, is arranging a “balloon test” to show residents how tall the hospital will be.  According to the article:

[City Manager Michael] Bollhoefer told the commission last Thursday that a balloon test will be performed for local residents in which a large inflatable standing several stories tall will be blown up to demonstrate the possible heights of the health care center.

Some may find this creative, a good faith effort.  I find it absurd.  In this year 2012, the best a hospital can do to show a community what its new hospital will look and feel like is a balloonReally?

Most individuals are not visual thinkers.  In other words, comprehending the look, feel and scale of space is difficult.  Even for those in the design and construction field, it is not easy. So how is a balloon, even if it was the most advanced and amazing balloon ever designed, going to communicate that?

The truth is many healthcare administrators and practitioners have trouble understanding space and how a design will perform for them.  This is one reason simulation is so important.

Today, owners have so many valuable tools at their disposal to showcase a future design.  Architects can develop 3D models, virtual or physical, that include adjacent neighborhoods and show scale, heights, windows, colors.  Light studies that show how shadows will travel and fall across the immediate surrounding area can be shown.  Acousticians can simulate ambulance and helicopter noise.  Visualization of traffic studies can show how cars and pedestrians will need to navigate the new roads. With more dollars and more time, there are even virtual reality capabilities that can allow people to synthetically experience the new hospital. 

It is embarrassing and stingy to use such primitive technology to attempt to convey something as complex as a new building.  The conspiracy theorist in me feels there must be something worth hiding in the new development, something that better visualization tools would bring to light if demanded by the community.  A quote from author, comedian and social critic Baratunde Thurston comes to mind:  “It’s irresponsible not to use the tools of today.”

Hospitals are ploughing millions of dollars into information technology (IT) upgrades right now.  Thus, they recognize the power and value of technology.  Put the slide rules away and use it.