Before the Floorplan: Architectural Programming for Healthcare Facilities


Gathering information makes for an organized and optimal medical facility design

An architectural program serves as a roadmap and basis for design. Along with master planning, programming of healthcare projects such as hospitals and clinics helps to align facility needs with operational, financial, and strategic goals. At Curtis Miner Architecture we find an integrated approach to programming doesn’t just include the number of rooms and their types or the size of spaces to be designed. Our efforts also take into account the experiences that staff, patients, and families have when they are in the spaces and buildings.

CMA firm principals Gerrit Timmerman and Jay Taggart have helped healthcare professionals navigate the world of space requirements, adjacencies, and operational flows for more than 20 years. It’s a collaborative process they find highly interactive and engaging. “Healthcare facilities are one of the most complicated building types and involve many stakeholders,” explains Gerrit. “Clients are asking us to look at their hospital needs in new and different ways. That’s why we recognize the programming process as essential because it sets the stage for project success.”

While no two medical facilities are alike, there are some commonalities to the programming effort: gathering and analyzing existing data, assessing needs, asking questions, listening, and verifying.

Staffing and Space Needs Assessment

CMA meets with a wide variety of stakeholders, including doctors, nurses, maintenance staff, and administrators, to fully understand each department’s unique goals, challenges, priorities, and how they intend to use their spaces. Other important considerations include the patient experience, client culture, technology, operations, and sustainability. Because hospitals are among the most regulated of building types, CMA programmers pay special attention to local and/or state building codes as well as federal standards, HIPAA regulations, and ADA requirements.


Architects create and use staffing and space needs assessments to quantify and track the dedicated spaces within each department.

CMA looks for indicators such as standards and codes, equipment specifications, circulation, and infection control to ask more questions and validate data. While programming a women’s center and cardiology suite at Intermountain Healthcare’s American Fork Hospital, the team evaluated the equipment needs of ultrasound and mammography rooms. They reviewed healthcare guidelines and facility standards to fully understand the requirements for these spaces. During conversations with the hospital stakeholders about the sizes of equipment, it became clear that additional space was needed to accommodate these rooms beyond the minimum standards noted in the jurisdictional codes.

“That’s why we closely review codes, methods, and equipment and talk to stake holders,” says Gerrit. “We know X-ray equipment requires minimum wall and ceiling clearances, lead shielding, a control room. Each of those space requirements is identified and noted.”    


A room layout graphically communicates a single space. This makes it easier for the client to comprehend and confirm the details and furnishings.

Adjacencies and Flow


A program plan communicates size, proximity, and access of spaces.

While working with caregivers and clinicians, we look carefully at space adjacencies to first understand then improve flow of movement from one space to another. This attention to detail makes operations more efficient and improves the patient experience. “We examine the physical relationships between flow and function,” describes Jay. “Our team studies the flow of patients into the building, between doctor and nurse, between materials and maintenance.” The result is a flow diagram that shows the movement and communication of people and materials.

Visual Verification

We then to begin to translate these words and numbers into space listings, square footage, and bubble and space diagrams. With client feedback and validation, the preferred ideas are further developed into drawings through blocking and stacking diagrams, site development, and circulation. This output can also be used as a basis for developing preliminary project costs.


Building from the space needs assessments, room layouts, and program plans, a conceptual space layout confirms operations with a layout of each department.

What the Future Holds

What does the future of healthcare programming look like? Gerrit really sees this phase of programming becoming more digital and three-dimensional. “In this world of social distancing, virtual and screenshare meetings are now the norm. And with 3D parametric drafting capabilities, it’s becoming more common that the floor plan diagrams begin to shape the building as the process unfolds.”


A 3D rendering can help a client visualize the final project within its surroundings.

This evolution of ideas and input into a functional program is incredibly rewarding for our healthcare programming team because we recognize that the architecture of hospitals can help lead to better health outcomes for all of us. 


Programming ensures that healthcare spaces and buildings are designed to provide an ideal experience for staff, patients, and families.