Simulator technology has enabled Rex Healthcare physicians and administrators to virtually “walk through” the Raleigh, N.C., health system’s $200-million campus regeneration project—while it remains in schematic drawings.

 FullCon Solutions 1:2:1 Analysis technology allows owners to experience the feel of their new buildings in a full-scale virtual environment.
Photo Courtesy FullCon Solutions
FullCon Solutions 1:2:1 Analysis technology allows owners to experience the feel of their new buildings in a full-scale virtual environment.

“It allows physicians and other key stakeholders to experience what the space might feel like and give real-time feedback to the design team,” says Chad T. Lefteris, vice president of support services of Rex Healthcare, a member of UNC Health Care. “We found it beneficial.”

FullCon Solutions of Raleigh, N.C., developed the 1:2:1 Analysis technology and prepared Rex’s CAD data for use with a $2-million simulator owned by Duke University in Durham, N.C. FullCon also works with a simulator at Iowa State University in Ames.

Banks of computers and projectors create the illusion of being in the new hospital.

David Fuller, president of FullCon, says the technology has been around nearly 25 years and used in designing equipment, treating phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, and planning medical procedures.

“It’s new to (the A/E/C) industry,” Fuller says. “We project the CAD data to scale, in a controlled environment, 360 degrees around our client.” The technology is not restricted to health-care facilities, and can be used to assist all types of projects.

BBH Design of Raleigh, N.C., along with WHR Architects of Dallas, designed Rex’s 400,000-sq-ft campus expansion, which includes a five-story addition and renovation to the NC Cancer Hospital at Rex. The firm employed the Full Scale technology to help the client understand the planned structure and spatial relationships.

“Even for people who experience construction a lot, it’s hard to grasp that scale of construction,” says Andy King, design director at BBH. “The technology allows people to become much more engaged in the process.”

Participants walk into a 10- by 10-ft video-screen cube that’s 10 ft tall. By moving a “joy stick-like” device, they can wander through the simulated environment. Rex officials “drove up” to the new entrance; walked into the lobby; went to patient registration, waiting and treatment rooms; and visited multiple floors. They explored all of the spaces in actual scale, giving them a sense of how tall the ceilings will be, views from the various locations and whether the rooms felt cold or welcoming.

“It lets them virtually be in the space,” King says. “We try to introduce it early enough in the process that we show them a basis of the model, and we will go back at the end of every phase of the project, adding more and more information.”

Rex made a few “tweaks” to the height, width and volume of spaces. After visiting the simulator, Rex officials met with BBH architects in an adjacent room to discuss changes and could return to the virtual environment as needed.

“We are mocking things up live in the model and noticing things we would have never noticed until we were way farther down the line and done with design,” Lefteris says. “That translates to change orders and additional costs.”

Fuller estimates the cost for Rex’s virtual experience at about $4,500. Other projects range from $1,200-$1,800 per session, depending on the data set and time in the simulator.

Lefteris considers the time and money invested in the virtual environment well spent and plans additional virtual visits.

The team still expects to build mockups. King says the simulator will help them decide what pieces of the project will benefit from mockups, in which everyone from the hospital can walk through.

Rex Healthcare anticipates Skanska USA Building of Charlotte, N.C., will begin construction on the central energy plant this year and on the cancer hospital expansion in spring 2011, with a planned 2014 opening.

Useful sources:

• FullCon Solutions