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A Decade of Adult Intensive Care Unit Design: A Study of the Physical Design Features of the Best-Practice Examples

Rashid, Mahbub PhD, AIA


This article reports a study of the physical design characteristics of a set of adult intensive care units (ICUs), built between 1993 and 2003. These ICUs were recognized as the best-practice examples by the Society of Critical Care Medicine, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, and the American Institute of Architects. This study is based on a systematic analysis of the materials found on these ICUs in the booklet and videos jointly published by the above organizations in 2005. The study finds that most of these examples of best-practice adult ICUs have the following negative characteristics: (1) they are built as renovation projects with more health and safety hazards during construction; (2) most of them are mixed-service units with more safety and staffing problems; (3) the overall layout and the layout of staff work areas in these ICUs do not have any common design solutions for improved patient and staff outcomes; and (4) in these ICUs, family space is often located outside the unit, and family access to the patient room is restricted, even though family presence at the bedside may be important for improved patient outcomes. Some of these negative characteristics are offset by the following positive characteristics in most ICUs: (1) they have only private patient rooms for improved patient care, safety, privacy, and comfort; (2) most patient beds are freestanding for easy access to patients from all sides; (3) they have handwashing sinks and waste disposal facilities in the patient room for improved safety; and (4) most patient rooms have natural light to help patients with circadian rhythms. The article discusses, in detail, the implications of its findings, and the role of the ICU design community in a very complicated design context.

Schools of Fine Arts, and Architecture & Urban Design, University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Corresponding author: Mahbub Rashid, PhD, AIA, Schools of Fine Arts, and Architecture & Urban Design, University of Kansas, 1467 Jayhawk Blvd, Suite 300, Lawrence, KS 66045 (e-mail:

The research was made possible by a funding from the University of Kansas Center for Research (KUCR). The author thanks Prof Kent Spreckelmeyer of the University of Kansas and Prof Craig Zimring of the Georgia Institute of Technology for their support during the research.

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.