Just as the principles of design are regularly updated in residential and commercial spaces, veterinary clinics are updating at a great rate. Sita Simons explores what makes good clinic design and how necessary it is.
“It’s a different industry today than 20 years ago,” says business director Ian Shapland of specialist healthcare fit-out company, Elite. “And this has absolutely impacted on the design and fit-out of modern surgeries and practices. Whereas most used to be found in back rooms of houses, council regulations and the interests of neighbours have moved practices out of residential areas and into purpose-built spaces.”
The 2000s saw an explosion in marketing and branding, and the need for veterinary practices to distinguish themselves in a busy market. “This hasn’t been easy for many vets, as understandably they have studied long and hard to become vets, not marketers,” says Shapland. But there is an expectation now that centres will be task-specific, easily distinguishable, comfortable and welcoming. This is all encapsulated in the design. There’s a way to go in this sector, but many vets are embracing the changes and there’s no doubt getting it right has a definite impact on the overall success of the practice,” says Shapland.
Retail has also become part of the package, from offering a range of foods and take-home treatments, to the other extreme of pet accessories and ‘spa’ experiences, in no small part thanks to celebrity culture. The pet-care industry in Australia is estimated to be worth more than $7 billion annually, and though pet-ownership numbers show a slight decline, spend per pet is rising year on year owing to an increase in understanding of pet health, more pet owners taking up preventative treatment, advances in veterinary medicine and an increase in product and service options.
The need for retail space has very much driven the design process, says design manager for CBD Projects, Meow Lim.
“Everything to make the workspace ergonomic and effective is important, and systems are sophisticated for these processes. This applies to making things smooth and efficient and comfortable for staff, customers and animals. From the height of the counter, to a separation of dog and cat wards, ease and comfort for the animal, the customer and the practitioner are carefully considered. But the retail side of things is a relatively new element that must be integrated well into the design. Good display equals good sales.”
Advances in technology mean better materials with which to design and create improved function. “Personalising the space and moving away from the clinical look that rendered all practices very similar is a common goal,” says Lim. “Taking the inviting neighbourhood feel that existed in home-based practices and bringing it to a very up-to-date practice can be done with timber-look vinyls, for instance, which are much more hygienic and require less maintenance than timber boards but look completely authentic.”
No matter how attractive though, the practicalities of running a clinic, hospital or practice are elements that never change. There is a lot of wear and tear on the space and facilities, and rigorous cleaning reduces lifespan. Striking the balance between aesthetics and longevity is something all facilities must factor in.
The RSPCA adoption centre in Rouse Hill, NSW, is one example of an animal-care centre that has taken on board the most up-to-date thinking and design principles. Three years in the planning, each detail was carefully considered. RSPCA project manager, Karen Thorne, says it is a complex process.
“There is a definite need for updating,” Thorne explains, “as thinking on animal care and shelter has come a long way, in tandem with great leaps forward in medicine and treatment. Designing a new space is a mix of science, function and aesthetics. Adoption centres used to be quite confronting places, so it was important to tackle that. Making a friendly, comfortable space where people can hang out, have a coffee, and interact with the animals has a huge impact on successful adoptions.”
These are now ‘destination’ centres, where the whole family can come and enjoy positive interaction with animals. The use of colour and materials is inviting for the customer, and large retail selections of what people want and expect for their pets is a dominant theme.
“We consulted many experts,” says Thorne. “Making a space look really decorative is the icing on the cake, so to speak, and it works. Using glass and vinyls instead of concrete and steel is more appealing aesthetically, but also more expensive. All centres thinking about updating need to ask first if they can afford the upkeep afterwards, what the impact of the usual wear and tear will be on the space and materials, and if they can afford to refurbish again in five instead of 10 years.”