MDCO Medical Simulation Center | Paul Lukez Architecture
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MDCO Medical Simulation Center

Parsippany, NJ

Most simulation centers are crammed into back halls of hospitals or academies and are architecturally nondescript. A suburban New Jersey biopharmaceutical firm specializing in advanced medical treatments and surgical techniques set out to challenge that convention.

Placed right beside the lobby of the firm’s 167,000-square-foot suburban New Jersey campus, its 8,100-square-foot, ADA-compliant Sim Center is a new lab model for demonstrating and testing new pharmaceuticals and surgeries. The center’s welcoming ambiance fosters collaboration among members and outside consultants in the firm’s first-hand advances.

Design process and program

Pre-design programming was conducted by interviewing key stakeholders, e.g., senior management, researchers, surgeons. Core design and technical parameter analysis and research on the world’s best pharmaceutical and surgical practices became a valuable design/build resource. The design program combines hospital elements—operating room, catheterization laboratory (cath lab), control room, ICU, nurses’ station, ER entrance—with a learning space, debriefing room, research workshop, kitchen/café, gallery and library. Sustainable elements include LED lighting with energy-saving controls, daylight harvesting, low-flow plumbing and recycled materials.

An oft-mentioned term in the interviews, “Simulation as Theater,” became the theme for creating spaces where actor and spectator, teacher and learner roles could alternate, and for redefining rooms to let participants observe each other’s activities in sense-exciting ways.

Spatial sequence and arrangement

The spaces are reciprocally shaped and defined to support each other’s activities. The circulation paths choreograph views and experiences in the diverse spaces, thus broadening the visitor’s understanding of the medical development process. Views through spaces shift, depending on one’s location in the center. Anyone entering it readily notices its ongoing events.

The central Learning Space is immersed within the surgical and ICU rooms, enabling free movement among them. Participants congregate around custom mobile tables. A debriefing room at the far end has diverse media tools to monitor ongoing activities in the medical arenas. In the abutting research-workshop room, industrial designers and biomedical engineers tinker with new products and tools. A secondary entry to the space is at the emergency entrance by the parking lot, where an ambulance is stationed to simulate initial stages of critical care.

The primary lobby builds off the building’s main spine. The vestibule introduces a gallery with interactive displays and technologies. A café and kitchen serve groups large and small. A niche-nestled library creates intimacy. Dramatically sculpted windows showcase the cath lab.

As the Sim Center’s spatial anchor, the cath lab is wrapped in raw steel, creating a dramatic contrast between its finely detailed interior and its rugged container. A large proscenium-like opening off of the gallery frames the cath lab, learning space and ICU, reinforcing the center’s “Simulation as Theater” theme and the firm’s philosophy of cross-disciplinary collaboration.