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Dome - What a building says

September 2011

What a building says

Date: September 16, 2011

Image of the new facilities at The Johns Hopkins Hospital

As Hopkins moves toward throwing open the doors of its new clinical buildings in April, there’s been a lot of work directed toward improving the patient experience—patient- and family-centered care, new state-of-the-art technology, better wayfinding. But before patients enter the new hospital, their first impression will be the buildings themselves.

So when Hopkins architect Michael Iati talks about the “notch in the façade” or how a “dimple” in the face of The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center ”pulls you in,” and consulting architect Allen Kolkowitz speaks of a “million frit softening the appearance and diminishing the size of the building,” they’re referring to things that were all done by design.

Sally MacConnell, Johns Hopkins Health System vice president for facilities, stresses that the importance of defining points of arrival by design cannot be overstated. Patients and families anxiously approach a vast academic medical institution like Johns Hopkins in crisis, she notes, and peel away first impressions like layers of an onion. They need to feel not lost or overwhelmed, but oriented, safe and secure.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about how to make this building of 1.5 million square feet approachable, how to bring it to a human scale,” MacConnell explains. “We want people to know where they’re going and to feel as comfortable as possible through the building environment and landscaping.”

True to the aim of Chicago-based architectural firm Perkins+Will, the Sheikh Zayed and Children’s Center towers do speak to people. To nurse Sherrie Boyer, the size says, “we can do more. I see it reaching out to the community more, broadening the horizons of what we do here.”

“Honestly, it’s absolutely outrageously amazing,” says anesthesia resident Michael Grant. “There’s a sense of awe about this building, a buzz about this place.”

Through the delineation of the bridges, canopy, courtyard and predominant colors—greens for the adult side, blues for the children’s—wayfinding to and in the new building is more by design than signage.

“The design visually reinforces and reaffirms your arrival several times before you actually penetrate the front door of the building,” Iati explains. “You get to this boulevard, which weaves you to this tower where you see the glass and your destination. The bridges help define this big urban space as you pull into the entry loop, and now there are neighboring doors for the adult and children’s sides you can discern for that final moment of arrival, which is important when you’re stressed out.”

“The building itself,” adds Kolkowitz, “has a wayfinding personality.”

Interestingly, this new front door also recalls the original Broadway entrance to The Johns Hopkins Hospital, which first welcomed patients in 1889. Its 1979 successor—the Wolfe Street entrance—fell short as a main doorway despite its practicality.

The new front door is visually identifiable and accessible “The front entry courtyard, the canopy, the front gardens and the bridges, the design of the building itself all come back to this very important mission of allowing the free and forward movement of research, teaching and patient care,” says Kolkowitz.

“How do we support patient care?” MacConnell asks. “By creating an environment that allows our staff to be as great as we know they are. This building does that.”

—Gary Logan