Since the beginning, the new medical pavilion for Penn Medicine was set to be a big deal. Aside from being the largest capital project in the University of Pennsylvania’s history (USD$1.6 billion), the project also broadly expands the academic medical center’s research, clinical care and educational offerings. It is the culmination of a vision that started nearly two decades ago, transforming the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) into a connected medical campus.
That vision would call for a 1.5 million-square-foot, 17-story facility that houses 504 patient rooms, 47 ORs, and a two-story emergency department with 61 exam rooms. This led to the formation of a multidisciplinary integrated project delivery (IPD), called PennFirst to be formed. Comprising Penn Medicine, architecture firms HDR and Foster + Partners, engineering firm BR+A, and construction managers L.F. Driscoll and Balfour Beatty, the team had more than 100 team members housed together in a collocation office (called “the collo”) on Penn’s campus throughout most of the seven-year project.
“It was really kind of a learning lab that was designed to promote the collaboration and innovation that we were looking for,” says Sara Gally, interior design principal at HDR (Philadelphia), which was the architect of record on the project and designer of the clinical areas. Foster + Partners, which collaborated with HDR on the overall architecture, provided the design of the exterior and public space interiors.
Daryl Bodewin, director of strategic projects at HDR (Princeton, N.J.), says a “patient first” mentality permeated the decision-making process from the start, with the team focused on providing private patient rooms equipped with the latest technology to help patients engage in their care. Another goal was to create a “future-ready” building with acuity-adaptable patient rooms capable of flexing to fit different needs and infrastructure to support evolving technologies.
Developing a More Considerate Landmark
The size of the building was embraced immediately, but the team still wanted to make sure it complemented existing infrastructure, including the nearby University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
“As we studied the building more and more, we felt like we shouldn’t try to pretend that it’s not big and break it down into lots of different pieces,” says Chris West, partner and architect at Foster + Partners (New York). “Instead, we decided to treat this building as a large sculptural element and not try to conceal that.”
The project team decided to forgo a more traditional rectangular building shape and round the ends of the Pavilion—a nod to the museum’s architecture and rotunda and a move that helped to “soften the building’s presence,” says Derek Tasch, health system architect at Penn Medicine (Philadelphia). “It also makes it a little more welcoming and fitting in the space.”
Inside, however, the facility came to resemble many other hospitals, with patient floors utilizing a racetrack layout. Because of the IPD approach, clinicians and staff had been involved throughout the design process; the team had utilized table-top models, room mock-ups, and visualization tools such as virtual reality glasses to review layout and room concepts with the staff.
“Everyone was seemingly happy with the direction we were going in,” Tasch says. Taking it one step further, the team decided to build a 30,000-square-foot Styrofoam mock-up of part of an inpatient floor and bring in nearly 500 hospital staff, including clinical surgeons, nurses, environmental services staff, mock patients, and food service, to tour and participate in simulations and day-in-the-life scenarios to help find any friction points that might need to be addressed. “It was the most important moment in the project,” he says.
However, the process resulted in some unexpected feedback. For example, West says, while the goal was to make all the acuity-adaptable patient rooms identical in size and layout, the ones that wrapped around the curved ends of the building were more irregularly shaped, which impacted clinical care. Rather than move forward on that plan, the team then decided to spend another few months rethinking and redesigning the layout.
Among the changes that ultimately came out of the process were elongating the building to 650 feet to get all the patient rooms to the same square layout and size, adding family lounges at the rounded ends of the floors to help bring daylight into the corridors, designing two separate sets of public elevators to reduce walking distances and utilizing a flexible planning system that enables the 72-bed inpatient floors to be broken down into smaller units to respond to changing needs and patient demands.
Once again, the team built a 30,000-square-foot mock-up of the patient floor—a process that went much better the second time around and led to getting the right hospital built, Tasch says.
Defining the Elements of Care
The first two floors of the Pavilion feature a variety of amenity spaces, including a chapel, café, cafeteria and family caregiver center. Floors four to 14, meanwhile, house the interventional and patient floors. Within the clinical area, building programming was arranged so that ICU care and inpatient units for specific service lines are also placed on the same floor to allow for faster care responses.
For the interiors, PennFirst focused on elements of hospitality to create a welcoming, noninstitutionalized setting. The overall neutral palette features natural materials in strategic locations to add a sense of warmth as well as serve as visual cues to support wayfinding, such as copper portals to frame the entrances to the elevator lobbies on the first floor.
Wood is used throughout the facility, starting with bigger gestures in the public spaces to create a sense of welcome within the environment. It’s also used more sparingly on the patient care floors to denote specific focal points, such as at the footwall in the patient room, Gally says.
The clean aesthetic also provided a backdrop for two art installations in public areas of the hospital, including a vibrant mural by Philadelphia artist Odili Donald Odita, which starts on the first floor and stretches up to the second floor and down a corridor.
The other work, a handmade glass sculpture titled “Decoding the Tree of Life” by artist Maya Lin, is installed in a quiet respite space near the chapel on the first floor and rises through an opening in the floor to the second level. “It goes from being a very dynamic piece at its top to a very contemplative piece at its base,” Gally says.
Creating Healthier, More Ecological Environments
Throughout the facility, a priority was made to use materials, indoor finishes, and furniture that would contribute to healthy indoor environments, says Eileen Gohr, senior sustainability consultant at HDR (Atlanta). This has helped make the Pavilion the largest project in the world to achieve certification in LEED v4 Gold Healthcare.
Along with indoor air quality, the building also was constructed with energy- and water-saving features, such as low-flow sinks and showers and low-flush toilets, which are expected to cut indoor water use by 30 percent. “We really wanted to deliver an environmentally responsible contribution to the campus,” Gohr says.
Additionally, during construction, a multidisciplinary group within the IPD team was organized early in the project to consider how prefabrication could be utilized. About 25 percent of materials were prefabricated and manufactured off-site, which helped to minimize on-site waste and reduce site congestion.
Turning to the exterior architecture, West says the PennFirst team chose a lightweight extruded aluminum panel system that’s used on louvers that conceal the mechanical systems housed on the rooftop as well as the second and third floors, and the spandrel panels of the building.
“It unifies the building and kind of echoes the scale of brickwork but in modern way,” West says. Inspiration for the color scheme came from the historical deep purple/brown-colored brick that’s used throughout the university’s campus and in some of the existing building on the medical campus. “It shines and catches the light in different ways and gives a real visual complexity that’s quite nice to look at,” he concludes.
Cultivating Future-Ready Tools
Reflecting on the project, Tasch says many of the firsts on the project for Penn Medicine, including the IPD and prefabrication processes, are tools that he expects the healthcare organization to take forward to future projects. “We’re still working on our lessons learned, but these are certainly things that we’re going to revisit and continue with and improve upon,” he says.
Alyson Cole, associate executive director, HUP transition and occupancy, at Penn Medicine, says feedback so far has been positive on the new Pavilion, including how some of the building’s inherent features have supported infection control during the pandemic, such as the private patient rooms and the updated HVAC system, which provides outside air to the patient rooms.
Additionally, she says staff members have commented on the access to natural light and the fluidity of the patient floors, which helped eliminate barriers between units. Looking ahead, she says Penn Medicine plans to do more in-depth review and study of the building and operational performance, including energy- and water-saving features, patient experience, and investments in flexibility, particularly in the acuity-adaptable patient rooms.
“It was designed to be flexible,” she says. “Time is going to tell if, in fact, we are as flexible as we think we have built to be.”
Another version of this article originally appeared on our sister site Healthcare Design