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Description Of Building

The Joseph H. Davis Center for Forensic Pathology (1 Bob Road Miami, FL 33136) is a three building complex of 89,500 square feet set on the perimeter of the campus of the Jackson Memorial Hospital/University of Miami Medical School Center. The design concept provides a warm human environment for visitors from both the public and private sectors. The approach to the building presents a balance of South Florida tropical trees, washed river stone and warm earth tones of patterned brick design lushly landscaped with tropical shrubs and bushes indigenous to the area. Building designs are totally functional and serve their purpose well. Upon entering the Administration building, the visitor finds a warm, bright environment, enhanced by a three story open staircase and atrium, topped by skylight. A designer’s blend and use of wood, Georgia brick, plush carpet and cushioned furniture create a homelike atmosphere. Artwork displayed is a mix, including a painting of the Florida Everglades as well as large colored photographs depicting a variety of scenes throughout Dade County. The soft warm motif is followed throughout the remainder of the administrative building by the use of natural materials. A state-of-the-art dividable classroom with a common projection room was designed to serve a dual purpose: classroom and disaster information center with provision for twenty-six telephones should the need arise. Offices overlook the Miami skyline. Large windows make use of natural light. Furnished in beautiful oak trim and matching furniture, the administrative offices maintain the continuity of the home-like concept. Adjacent to each doctor's office is a practical study/laboratory/storage area. The other two buildings, which house the morgues, laboratories, and photographic services, are connected by open breezeways, which allow views to the landscaped grounds. These buildings are bright, well-lit, and permit the use of natural light when needed. Again, quarry tile, earth-tone walls and trim are blended with stainless steel fixtures to provide a state-of-the-art facility.

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The Story

What became the most complex building ever constructed in Dade County arose from a longstanding need that had never been met. A 6,500 square foot building in 1957 was totally inadequate within a decade. A 13,000 square foot building in 1968 again failed to suffice within a decade. In 1986 the voters approved a criminal justice bond issue that provided the opportunity to build for the present and for the future.  

Death investigation is complex and demands the accuracy of applied laboratory science. These facilities were planned to process more than 4,000 bodies per year and perform more than 3,500 autopsies and yet be capable of handling mass disasters should the need arise. Laboratories, which currently utilize quarter million dollar instruments, were planned for instruments yet to be invented. Foul odors of decomposition and infectious diseases presented further challenge. Service to bereaved families in pleasant, hospitable surroundings instead of institutional drab, unique laboratories, including high speed photography of speeding bullets, a sterile autopsy suite - these were but a few of the goals to be reached. 

No architect in the world had been asked to plan a facility of this detail to meet these varied goals. Innovative approaches were in order. The first step was to choose a consulting architectural firm. The choice was made when only one out of approximately forty firms obtained letters of introduction from the Dade County Medical Examiner Department to permit them to visit other more recently built medical examiner facilities in the United States. This firm came back with a sight and sound show. “We have identified two problems unique to medical examiner buildings: odor control and lighting in the autopsy rooms. We don't know if we can solve these problems but we would like to try”. Those were the correct concepts. Hatcher, Ziegler, Gunn Associates of South Miami were awarded the contract for design services for this building. 

A unique approach, unusual in most circles, was to involve each employee, clerk, doctor, maintenance mechanic, toxicologist, photographer, investigator, typist, “the supervisors” and “the supervised,” in the entire planning process. Each was asked the question, “Assume you have unlimited space and unlimited money, how would you like your work area designed so you can do the best job possible?” Teamwork was stressed throughout. 

As each page of the program book was developed, back it went to the contributing employee for critique until this stage was complete. The process was repeated for the design drawings, which were not accepted until the employee had signed off. Finally, the construction drawings were created again utilizing the same process. During construction, no change orders were needed because “we forgot something.”

A primary challenge to the architect was beauty.    Lush landscaping and trees to please the eye were a must. Visitors, especially bereaved families, need ease of access and parking. In addition, no unpleasant sights, odors, or reminders of “government" or “a morgue” were to be allowed.

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The Results

Off the spacious lobby, decorated in warm wood, brick and nature's colors, are two family rooms with couches, table lamps and a closed circuit television viewer for identification of the deceased. Outside are patterned bricks, molded Mayan designs and river stone faced concrete panels, shaped to prevent dirt streaks common to institutional buildings.  Pedestrian walkways with landscaping and designer lighting to please the eye enhance the exterior.  

In addition to odor control a major consideration in the design process concerned vibration and air conditioning noise.  The best solution was a three building complex with the machinery room isolated from the rest of the buildings. 

Natural light is supplied for every occupied room.  Enough windows may be opened should the air conditioning fail.  The shared research space between doctor's offices provides microscopic and evidence review.  A lounge and kitchen for food and drink to complement the no smoking, eating, or drinking in the work area helps in maintaining cleanliness.

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Specific Features

  • Odor control - eighteen air handlers each with its own Cosatron air ionizer - a state-of-the-art odor and filterable dirt control system, that has proved its ability to work. With 85% recirculated air even the decomposed body building smells clean after ten minutes of circulation with the dissecting room door closed. An added plus is energy efficiency when chilled air is recirculated rather than being exhausted to the outside.

  • Lighting in autopsy areas - 100-foot candles at each dissecting station plus auxiliary spots for adjacent tissue dissection tables.  Increasing to 700-foot candles when surgical spotlight is on.

  • Technical furniture - custom designed laboratory stainless steel furnishings are mobile for ease of cleaning. 

  • Housekeeping - Service Engineering Associates were contracted to prepare the housekeeping plan and to prepare precise housekeeping bid specifications. The result is a building, already occupied for over a decade,  which appears brand new and will continue to look that way for decades to come.

  • Toxicology laboratory - the largest toxicology laboratory in Florida occupies 20,000 square feet of space dedicated to the discovery of trace amounts of toxins in tissue and blood.

  • Piping and cabling - piped in analytical gases and computer links extend to the many complex mass spectrometers and gas chromatographs. Pyrex glass sanitary sewer lines facilitate maintenance.
  • Future expansion - beneath the entire second floor of the laboratory building is one vast walk space for future utility line placement as well as ready repair of existing lines.

  • Fume hoods - Twenty-two fume hoods serve the various laboratories.

  • Histology laboratory - a large four-room suite built with strict controls for solvent fumes.

  • Photography - the photographic suite, replete with multiple computers and dickers for image creation and manipulation, is supplemented by an indoor firearms range for high-speed pictures of bullets in flight and motion pictures at 12,000 frames per second!  These specialty photographs are used in court proceedings for juries to comprehend evidence.

  • Bone and Tissue Harvesting Capability - today, the transplantation of whole organs, bone tissue and corneas is accepted medical practice. Bone and ligamentous tissue may be harvested from uninfected dead bodies.  Within the laboratory building is a six-room suite, including a standard surgical operating room, for just this purpose. This is the only medical examiner facility in the world with such a well-designed operational capability.

  • Records – The vast knowledge accumulated in the files and by the professional staff is dedicated to education.  Two record research rooms are available for scholars to study original records dating back to 1956.

  • Classroom/Auditorium – an auditorium, seating for one hundred, can be separated into two classrooms.  Two additional spacious conference rooms permit students, physicians, police and other scholars to attend classes and seminars on a regular basis.  Additionally, the auditorium, with multiple telephone floor jacks, is designed to serve as the control center in event of a disaster.

A flow of visitors, from as far as Australia, have viewed the facility for ideas on how to construct and maintain a modern state-of-the-art medical examiner facility.

From concepts to reality – this is the building that all personnel contributed their thoughts to design.  Its beauty, cleanliness and functions constitute a monument to these employees.

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Page Last Edited: Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:18:47 PM

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