A Beacon Of Healing
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
"We've been doing hospitals since 1943, when the firm started," NBBJ partner Richard Dallam says. And they've remained a strong point. The ground-up E.W. and Mary Firstenburg Tower, phase one of a renewal project at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, is the firm's latest tour de force.
That's because NBBJ put the human factor first. Dallam's team of architects and designers spent nine months observing and analyzing the hospital experience from the point of view of patients, visitors, and medical professionals. Dallam went so far as to have his staff push him around on a gurney as well as to follow in one surgeon's footsteps for a day. "He didn't sit down for 12 hours," Dallam reports. This "vision-driven preprogram," says Interior Design Hall of Fame member Rysia Suchecka, the partner in charge of interiors, also entailed calling on NBBJ's in-house anthropologist and industrial designer to study behavior.
"We added inspiration, beauty, and healing to the usual survey of operations, functions, and space programming," she says. Not that there wasn't plenty of the latter during the more than three years of design and construction for the 307,000-square-foot Firstenburg Tower, which is a full-service cardiovascular, orthopedic, and neurology facility.
The cardiovascular unit, with its operating rooms and lab, is on the ground level. On two are more surgical suites, bringing the total to 15. The third floor is mostly given over to mechanicals, but staff also use it for access to a private roof deck. Above, 144 single rooms compose the five patient floors.
Innovation started with a basic question: How do you ameliorate the fear factor? Start at the entry. NBBJ replaced an existing parking lot with a garden, dispatching cars to an underground garage. The size of three city blocks, the green space includes a soothing waterfall.
Clearly visible behind a wall of glass, the lobby could well be mistaken for reception at a five-star hotel. A ribbon of luminous copper-painted drywall swoops high above shining cross-cut travertine flooring inset with mahogany-colored carpet. Patients and visitors check in at a painted-metal desk topped by a counter in eye-catching translucent yellow resin.
"The lobby is an animal of its own," Suchecka remarks. It's meant to offer all the amenities visitors might need, including retail, and to be a draw for the community—a health resource center as well as a daylit, lofty space in which to celebrate, say, a good diagnosis.
In the adjacent lounge, the vibe skews ski lodge with a fireplace and columns clad in split limestone and seating upholstered in red, orange, and brown. For the café, think wine bar. Tall stools line a C-shape gray Corian counter. Flat-screen monitors are set, at ascending heights, into the limestone-clad wall beneath the staircase to the second floor.
The patient floors are light, bright, and calm, with hallways painted warm cream and pale teal instead of antiseptic white or gruesome green. To reduce din, so people actually get the crucial rest that's prescribed, NBBJ carpeted the floor and placed utility closets elsewhere—no closets means no banging. All corridors have a window at each end. Along their length, daylight from patient rooms filters through the frosted film on their sliding glass doors. (The doors are a generous 5 ½ feet wide to prevent gurney bumping.)
Patient rooms come with sleep sofas for visitors. A few feet away, a built-in resin counter serves as a desk before wrapping upward, around an armoire faced in silver plastic laminate. Applied to the wall, seven black capital letters and a movable magnetic orange frame allow patients to count down the days of the week till going home.
Until that time comes, visitors need to get out of the way when staff arrive for treatments. At many hospitals, there's no place to go. But NBBJ cured that ill, too. "We thought about a front-porch scenario," Suchecka explains. Just outside each doorway, she placed a bench, its rounded seat of creamy white Corian perched on posts of brushed stainless steel. In the evenings, when fluorescent fixtures come on underneath, each bench seems to be floating in its own gentle pool of light.