Archive Surgical Construction 2017

Check Out Every Detail of Your ORs — Before They're Built

Q&A with Will Adams, M.Arch., master architect and guru of virtual reality design.

Will Adams, M.Arch.


Will Adams, M.Arch.

What gave you the idea to use virtual reality for OR design?
We were working on renovating the ORs at the University of Washington Medical Center. The project manager learned about what we were doing with the technology and got excited about its potential to replace physical models of the new spaces, which they had already spent $300,000 to make. We created virtual mockups of 4 ORs, and they were blown away.

How does the technology help the design process?
We use it to figure out what equipment is needed and where it should go. We can create a realistic look of an entire OR, down to the type of power outlets that will be used and the texture, feel and look of surfaces throughout the room. You can increment that level of detail as the design progresses.

Does it provide an accurate feel of the room's function?
It really does. Virtual reality ORs can be extremely photorealistic and very convincing. When you get immersed in the virtual space, you can start critiquing the layout. You also hold controllers, so you can adjust surgical lights or move pieces of equipment around the room.

How does the virtual view improve the end product?
Part of the problem of design and construction is that it's very difficult to conceptualize drawings and models and to know what it will feel like to actually work in the space. The amount of information you pick up by being immersed in a virtual OR is so much greater, because it's very intuitive — it's how you would interact with the room in the real world. It's interesting to put people in a virtual environment that they have a stake in, to hear their comments about the space.

Why are virtual designs better than physical models?
It's expensive to build a mockup out of cardboard and plywood and rent the space to house it. Then you need to take the surgical team offsite, away from their jobs to review it. Physical mockups are also static and expensive to alter. We bring headsets to facilities, have staff check out the virtual space and can change the design rapidly in response to their feedback. We can create a series of updated virtual mockups at a quarter of what it costs to build a physical model. OSM

Mr. Adams ( is an integrated construction coordinator at Mortenson Construction in Seattle, Wash.

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