As happens in design profession from time to time, project team members can shift and change according to specialties, experience, and basic firm-wide staffing projections. Last summer, I found myself in such a situation, moving from completion of construction administration to the renovation of a clinic already in the design development phase.

The small project required a team that consisted only of an architect, also new to the project at this phase, and myself, a designer. In becoming acquainted with the project, it was obvious the clinic required complicated medical equipment to diagnose and treat their patients. Due to the complexity of the equipment, the previous team working directly with the client through the schematic design phase was made up of a talented and focused group of individuals specializing in medical equipment planning.

My new team was handed the task of implementing a previously approved conceptual design, moving the project forward through the design process. The design team schemed and sketched, but every attempt at execution was crippled by the request from the powers that be: implement the concept without moving client-approved walls, perfected to the inch for the medical equipment.

The process prompted a great many questions. How did the equipment plan and the concept find themselves at odds with each other? And if the program and medical equipment plan lead the design, does that limit innovation?

The inability to move walls placed a strain on our creativity. As the schematic design phase was dominated by the placement of medical equipment, we were left with implementing a design concept in the circulation space, a percentage of square footage dictated weeks before. Could we accomplish a conceptual design within the window of 30% circulation space without moving walls?

The team spent a handful of days engaging further with the plan considering options within the limitations of surface application on four planes at 90-degree intersections. Although there was solidarity in our solutions of manipulating shape and form within corridors ceiling elements and nurse station millwork, the result is a project impeccably efficient with little innovation in the way of shape and form.

The experience resonated with the team as a lessons learned regarding team integration during all phases and begs the question: Does a project led by equipment planning limit itself in innovation and creativity?