Diana Kissil, AIA, lead health care designer for SmithGroup, a national architecture, engineering, interiors and planning firm, says of today’s health care clients,
“If they are spending renovation dollars, they should be doing it with branding in mind.”
A design developed around a brand sends a clear message to the community about what makes a hospital or health system special.
Precision water-jet cutting techniques allow mission statements, logos and other images associated with a particular brand to be incorporated into many design materials and surfaces, while other elements, from terrazzo flooring to floor mats, also can be used to highlight a branding message.
A more comprehensive approach to interiors master planning can even strengthen a brand.
A master plan that reflects an organization’s mission and values reinforces brand identity, produces significant cost benefits and creates a competitive advantage in attracting patients and staff, says Kissil, a project director of SmithGroup’s Healthcare Interiors studio in San Francisco. Unlike a basic standards program based on the current aesthetic, a branding master plan should focus on form and an overall approach to the environment, she says.
A successful plan goes beyond color and materials to include furniture types, signage, pattern and scale, with an emphasis on how these elements can be used to express what Kissil calls the DNA of an organization.
She says users, including donors who may otherwise want to put their own stamp on a given space, buy into design ideas more readily when they understand the larger purpose of such a plan.
Master planning makes projects more efficient by providing a road map for interior design. It can also be a powerful tool for maximizing purchasing power and ensuring future product availability.
Even better, a branding master plan produces designs that last. One benefit of basing a plan on forms rather than specific products, Kissil notes, is that “forms don’t get discontinued.” As a result, she says, the care environment is more cohesive, with no second-class spaces created for patients or staff as areas of a facility are renovated or expanded.
This is demonstrated by SmithGroup’s recent work at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Palo Alto, Calif. Respect for critically ill children who are often mature beyond their years is at the core of the hospital’s mission. In 1990, Kissil was the lead designer for the hospital’s original building by international architecture firm Anshen + Allen. The design took a restrained approach to forms, finishes and color. Curvilinear shapes in key places, a hierarchy of color and pattern, a particular approach to lighting design and details like child-height windows and countertops were important elements. Nearly 20 years later, in an extensive renovation and expansion project, SmithGroup updated the design standards to accommodate new green materials and include more variations. The modifications maintained the original intent, giving the new spaces a familiar, but fresh, look and feel.
The University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics, a statewide health system operated by UW Health, Madison, Wis., has also had long-term success with an interior design plan that furthers the organization’s brand. Ardis Hutchins, AIA, AAHID, IIDA, interior architect, UW Health, says the system began developing its branding plan about 10 years ago.
“We’re the state’s teaching and research institution, and we wanted to honor that,” she says. The design plan emphasizes Midwestern materials, like wood and stone, and blue and green tones taken from the Wisconsin landscape. At the UW Hospital in Madison, water-jet cutting is employed to incorporate images of regional plant life into flooring borders throughout the inpatient units.
The first image used was a leaf from a sugar maple, the state tree. When a patient unit is renovated, unit staff choose a native plant to accent that unit—images of wood violets, wheat and cattails have been selected, for example. The unique images help with wayfinding and build camaraderie among unit staff. Coasters made of flooring material incorporating the unit’s image are presented to staff members at the completion of each project. According to Hutchins, the coasters are quite popular; they are also used in the hospital’s major meeting rooms.
Other Wisconsin icons used in the hospital include a large state map located in the center of the main lobby floor.
Hutchins says the master plan makes it easier to zero in on effective design strategies for health system projects. UW Health recently completed an expansion and renovation of the hospital’s cancer radiotherapy department. This project’s design, by Zimmerman Architectural Studios Inc., Milwaukee, features large murals inspired by regional landscapes and stone walls that bring to mind native Wisconsinite Frank Lloyd Wright.
For systems like UW Health that have several facilities, a branding master plan can unify different locations. Sarah Grimes, art coordinator for UW Hospital & Clinics and the health system’s American Family Children’s Hospital, Madison, notes the children’s hospital uses the same Wisconsin theme, in a more playful manner.
International design firm RTKL’s interior design of a new patient tower at Children’s Medical Center, Dallas, incorporates a stylized version of the hospital’s logo, a balloon on a string. A looping ribbon motif appears on flooring, reception desks and frosted glass. “We wanted to create an organic, flowing, whimsical design that was not too childlike,” says RTKL Associate Dori Mommers, AAHID, IIDA. The elliptical shape of the grand staircase in the main lobby recalls the curvature of a balloon, and purple, yellow and blue—colors associated with the hospital—accent the design. “That emphasized the brand even more,” says Kendra Locklear, IIDA, LEED AP, RTKL designer.
Mark Banholzer, AIA, LEED AP, RTKL’s vice president and national practice leader for health care interior architecture, says that as media technology becomes more affordable and approachable, hospitals and health systems will be able to add interactive, dynamic branding elements to their interiors. The firm is developing media walls to be included in new construction projects currently under design for clients in Chicago and Philadelphia.
Interior architecture presents an excellent platform for advancing an organization’s brand, because “interiors are what people experience on a real, direct basis,” Banholzer says.
This article first appeared in the June 2009 issue of HFM magazine.
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