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Fall 2011

What a building says

Date: October 3, 2011

The new buildings at Johns Hopkins

The calming influence of the new clinical buildings’ architectural design will speak volumes to patients and their families.

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. 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 frits softening the appearance and diminishing the size of the building,” they’re referring to things that were all done by design.

 The importance of “defining by design” a point of arrival cannot be overstated, notes Sally MacConnell, Johns Hopkins Health System vice president for facilities. Patients and families are often anxious and in crisis when they approach a vast academic medical institution like Johns Hopkins, she notes, and they peel away first impressions like layers of an onion. They need to feel safe, secure, and well oriented—not lost or overwhelmed.

“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.”

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 buildings 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’s and children’s sides that you can discern for that final moment of arrival, which is important when you’re stressed out.”

Interestingly, this new front door 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. “The building itself has a way-finding personality.”

True to the aim of Chicago-based architectural firm Perkins+Will, the Sheikh Zayed and Children’s Center towers do speak to people. To Hopkins 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 outrageously amazing,” says anesthesia resident Michael Grant. “There’s a sense of awe about this building, a buzz about this place.”

Gary Logan