A carefully considered entry zone can put patients at ease while sending a powerful branding message for your healthcare client. Our experts show how to do it through four project case studies.

April 02, 2013

3. Simplicity serves hospital’s vision-impaired clientele

As part of a zoning agreement with city officials, the Mass. Eye and Ear optical shop and café are open to the general public, with a street-level entrance separate from the institution’s primary lobby. PHOTO: BRUCE T. MARTIN PHOTOGRAPHY


Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, a Boston hospital specializing in eye, ear, nose, throat, head, and neck disorders, took a very different approach for a recent adaptive reuse project. The Building Team transformed an existing lab facility near the Longwood Medical Area through a vertical expansion and addition, anchored by a modest but carefully detailed lobby.

“The design tries to compensate for patients’ issues with depth perception, color perception, and various levels of vision impairment,” says Wendt.

To prepare for the project, the Building Team visited Perkins School for the Blind. They wore glasses that simulate vision disorders to gain a first-hand sense of impairments that patients are coping with.

The resulting lobby is well-lit and clear of obstacles. A small two-story atrium and bridge visually connect the clinical ophthalmology services with ground-level services. Pale flooring and walls contrast with clean-lined, brightly colored seating. A handrail helps patients find their way along the entry corridor to the main desk, and baseboard guides for canes have been strategically placed. Interior glazing includes horizontal mullions near eye level to provide additional cues.


The handrail and floor pattern at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary offer important wayfinding cues for visually impaired patients. Students from the Massachusetts College of Art are sometimes invited to hang their work in the entry corridors. PHOTO: BRUCE T. MARTIN PHOTOGRAPHY


“It may all look spartan, but you don’t want to clutter up the path of travel when users are vision-impaired,” says Wendt. “The lines in the floor provide a direct contrast to help with wayfinding.”

Urban design guidelines for the city of Boston directed placement of an optical shop and café at ground level, with a separate street entrance. “That was part of the city’s rule for allowing this facility in a quasi-residential neighborhood, so it would be viewed as an amenity and a convenience,” says Wendt.

Massachusetts Eye and Ear’s Clinical Director, Carolyn E. Kloek, MD, says, “The simplicity and clarity of the spaces make a pleasant and calming lobby. The center is built into a hill, so it was imperative that light filter from the second floor into the first-floor lobby, which is partially below grade. Hospital lobby designs are using more open spaces and bright colors to make the environment warmer and more inviting, and to make the patients feel more at home.”


4. Cheerful spaces keep children safe—and busy

Upon arrival at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, patients see a color-saturated terrazzo compass with sunken lighting, introducing the “Passport to Discovery” theme. Architecturally integrated thematic elements and environmental graphics, featuring animal icons and habitats, aid in wayfinding; the theme is introduced by artwork at the reception desk. PHOTO: NICK MERRICK /  HEDRICH BLESSING


Pediatric patients have a distinct mix of traits that influence design, according to Kathie Taranto, President of the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital. “Children are always learning from their physical environment, so they respond favorably when there are interesting things to do and see. The ability to interact with the environment can promote comfort, distraction, and a sense of control for children when they enter a place that could otherwise be scary or anxiety-provoking.”

Two years ago the university, in partnership with Fairview Health Services, opened a new 227,000-sf, 96-bed replacement facility that provides more than 50 pediatric services. “The old lobby was very dark and totally different,” says Wendt. “The client asked us to have families and children give input on the colors we were considering, including the saturation levels.” The brightly daylit lobby is accented with hot pinks, blues, and yellows, with final fabrics and finishes chosen by an in-house facilities group.

Wendt says the hospital wanted to avoid traditional “Minnesota” décor that references lakes, local wildlife, and the North Woods. Instead, the theme “Passport to Discovery” was selected, symbolized with a compass rose in the center of the lobby’s terrazzo floor. Animal icons, usually species with some tie-in to medical research, serve as identifying features throughout the building. Cut-out, backlit graphics and color-coded informational signboards give each floor its own “habitat” and signature animal.


Creative seating, flooring, and custom light fixtures offer positive distractions in the Amplatz lobby. The one-story space makes a pleasant setting for musical performances, storytelling, and puppet shows. A yellow glass enclosure (rear) provides privacy for reading and quiet play, while keeping children visible to families. PHOTO: NICK MERRICK /  HEDRICH BLESSING


Clear traffic paths lead families through the lobby to the parking garage, resource center, public elevators, and a coffee and juice bar. Interactive monitors keep children busy coloring digital “pages,” or taking pictures of themselves and uploading them to a big-screen display that makes the hospital feel more personal.

First and foremost, a children’s hospital must be secure. Entry to patient-care units is possible only through the lobby, with a security check-in and issuance of ID badges at the main desk. A cylindrical enclosure, formed by yellow glass walls and equipped with low seating, creates a safe space-within-a-space where patients can enjoy reading or quiet play without being out of their families’ view.

“The first impression is important to the overall patient experience, particularly for children,” says Taranto. “We wanted a physical environment that reflected the spirit of children yet was welcoming to all ages. Light and bright colors and varying materials and textures are pleasing to the eye and allow people to see something interesting wherever they look.”

Today’s hospital lobbies are a far cry from the nondescript spaces common in the recent past. Foxlin believes competitive pressures will continue to push change. “Patients, families, and staff are becoming more sophisticated in taste and are demanding a more sophisticated healthcare building,” she says. “The lobby is now considered an important extension of the care-giving environment.”


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