By Tushar Gupta, AIA, NCARB
Few elements of brand identity are as potentially powerful as the architecture of an organization’s buildings. This is especially true in healthcare where the patient experience of the brand is inextricably linked not only to the appearance of the buildings, but to the ability of the facilities to support high levels of care.
As the top-ranked healthcare system in Colorado, with locations in several of the state’s fast growing communities, UCHealth is poised for expansion. Sean Menogan, vice president, Facilities, Design and Construction, understood that in order to grow in a very short timeframe of one to three years, they needed to be able to make facilities decision very quickly.
“We realized that we were going to have to plan for a small hospital that could grow over time. Rather than overbuilding at the outset, we wanted a design for a chassis that would allow us to bring new facilities on line more rapidly and more efficiently.”
UCHealth engaged EYP Health (formerly WHR Architects) to develop a prototype hospital that could be adapted for the specific needs of different sites and communities, yet would standardize key elements of the facility model to support the system’s ambitious growth plans. The decision also provided a corollary opportunity to establish an architectural identity for the UCHealth brand.
Guided by an understanding of architecture’s role in an institution’s brand, the architects used UCHealth’s Mission Statement as a guide in the development of the design for the new Longs Peak Hospital—the prototypical community hospital design that would inform the architecture of several new UCHealth facilities in the region.
UCHealth’s Mission Statement: “We improve lives. In big ways through learning, healing and discovery. In small, personal ways through human connection. But in all ways, we improve lives.”
EYP Health’s challenge was to translate that that commitment to “improve lives” into built form.
“Learning, healing and discovery” defined the care to be delivered, and informed the organizational diagram of the new building. The interplay of the natural setting, space, light and materials create the setting for a series of enriching experiences that reinforce the human connection. The architecture of the building gives form to the brand visually in the aesthetics, and in experiencing the performance of the space.
Learning, healing and discovery
The prototype design began with a departmental space program focused on achieving a target area of less than 2,000 square feet per bed. Design solutions evolved from discussions with UCHealth leadership, and included predesign site test fits, presentation of national benchmarks and trends in healthcare design.
The result is a highly flexible, prototypical community hospital. Flexible strategies include phased horizontal expansion for inpatient beds, as well as all diagnostic and support services, without disrupting operations. This guiding principle was achieved with the placement of the public concourse on the front of the hospital and support service circulation in the center. In this way, these primary circulation spines are treated as permanent elements which support future horizontal growth without needing to shut down when the hospital needs to expand.
Inpatient bedroom and nursing unit configurations support UCHealth priorities for staff viewing, patient views to exterior, efficient floor area, and minimizing staff fetching distances. Efficient planning solutions maintain the separation of onstage (patient, family, visitor) and offstage (clinician, support service, transport circulation) circulation.
The architectural vocabulary reflects the regional vernacular and a timeless character to establish a memorable brand identity for UCHealth. The refined arc of the curved roof provides the most distinctive element of the architectural brand—an iconic, identifiable form that announces the UCHealth facility without words. So visually distinctive is the arc that whether by metaphoric intent or coincidence the recently released new logo for the UCHealth System includes an elegant arc-like form.
The exterior palette of materials speaks to the Mountain West locale where residents’ hold a deep connection to the outdoors. Colorado Buff stone, brick and wood give the building a native look that grounds the structure. The sleek use of metal emphasizes the modernity of the design and signals the state-of-the-art functionality of the facility. High performance glass in the building envelope supports energy efficiency while offering views out and natural daylight into patient and staff areas to promote health and healing.
Regional stone and natural woods carry through to the interior of the building to maintain consistency while the strategic application of accent colors ease wayfinding. The use of warm, natural wood at key touchpoints reinforces a human connection. As a complement to the natural materials, sustainable alternatives offer a similar aesthetic, as well as ease of maintenance and durability. The play of scale helps to define a range of public and private space. The sum of the interior design elements creates a “chic” lodge environment, appropriate to the Colorado setting, easily identifiable and adaptable for other facilities.
Being good stewards of the environment, UCHealth will pursue a Silver LEED for Healthcare rating, echoing the mission statement’s call for “improving lives.”
UCHealth’s prototype template
EYP Health’s prototype hospital template is allowing UCHealth to bring new facilities online more quickly and efficiently, which ultimately saves the hospital system time and money. The template components act like a kit of parts. Key planning rooms and units are standardized to be replicable, scalable and flexible to allow for the program demands of a community or site constraint, while maintaining operational workflow from one facility to the next. As important, the design establishes a strong visual identity, distinct in form and materials, that will be part of UCHealth’s new facilities throughout the region going forward.
Menogan and the design team talk about designing for a future family of facilities using a Starbucks analogy in which each store is clearly related to others by the branded architecture, but is expressed differently in different locations. Already EYP’s architects and designers are tailoring the Longs Peak prototype for a new community hospital in Highlands Ranch. In addition, BSA Lifestructures is deploying the brand vocabulary created by EYP Health in the design of outpatient clinics and using the prototype from Longs Peak Hospital as a basis for the design of a hospital at Greeley.
The Starbucks comparison resonates with the UCHealth prototype story in more than obvious desire for an identifiable design. In a recent Strategy + Business blog, “How Howard Schultz’s Angel Poised Starbuck’s for Success” the authors Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell point out that Schultz is the master of what is called “service design.” “Although it is replicated again and again in thousands of locations and for every customer that comes in the door, the experience Schultz designed feels personal.”
UCHealth’s new community hospitals are designed to provide an exceptional and personal experience — a combination of services, physical design, and brand image that make patients and family feel that the hospital is theirs, even as it serves hundreds of others. As Menogan says the hospitals help caregivers and clinicians deliver on the UCHealth Vision: “From health care to health.”