An Eye For An Eye

When you walk into NuVision’s fifth-floor Lasik clinic in midtown Manhattan, the first thing you see is the laser. It’s a large machine, like an oversized photocopier, with a cushy reclining chair at one end. A plain window separates the reception area from the surgical suite where the laser resides; a simple roller blind is unfurled when a surgery is underway.

“To get someone to the point where they say, ‘I’m going to trust you with the most important sense I have in my body — my vision,’ there has to be a sense of openness,” explains Matthew Pruitt, the centre’s executive director. Sarrah Khan and Andrs Corts, co-founders of Agencie Architects, took up that challenge in their design for the centre, which opened last fall. Exposing the laser was a first move, immediately demystifying the core of laser eye surgery by making the technology visible. Through a myriad of ensuing decisions, they created a calm, spa-like interior that gently ushers clients through the treatment. “We wanted to create a [sense of] warmth, with a technology that can be quite frightening,” says Kahn, a Canadian working in N.Y.C.

Generating a sense of spaciousness within a program-packed, 900-square-foot footprint was a key aspiration. White epoxy floors and curved walls channel natural light deep into the suite, while facilitating a sense of flow between rooms individualized for each step in the Lasik process. “A prime intent was to get away from the conventional doctor’s office, where the space itself is just considered overhead,” explains Khan. “The design takes into account what the sequence is from the patients’ entering.”

Case in point: the first examination space, used for a diagnostic wave scan, is diminutive in size — but as Corts reasons, “there’s never going to be more than two people in there.” This in turn opens room for a more spacious consulting area, where patient and doctor can discuss treatment options. The strategic space allotment also includes a wheelchair-compliant examination room; the centre plans to sponsor laser eye surgery for quadriplegic patients, for whom the treatment represents a huge life improvement.

A tight budget (under $50 per square foot, furnished) and even tighter timeframe (two months from occupation to operation) demanded strategy in process as well as in design. Khan, a native of working-class Sarnia, Ont., and graduate of McGill University’s structural engineering school, used her knowledge of materials to maximize the design’s efficiency, while Corts drew on his construction management background to coordinate the work. “Our knowledge of costs and building methods enable us to design interesting projects despite having limited budgets,” explains Khan.

Good design also makes for good business: by making patients more comfortable and confident, the new space has helped the clinic’s bottom line. Pruitt recalls that in NuVision’s old space — a generic medical office — six out of 10 people who qualified for Lasik would schedule surgery. Now, that figure is up 15 per cent. And because the design was completed on a minimal budget, within a compact footprint, the office is able to keep its fixed costs down and pass those savings on to clients. “Not only do they get a more personal experience, but it’s easier on their pocketbooks,” says Pruitt. “It’s a situation where everyone wins.” CI