Venturi ventures into hospitals, with a capital H

November 01, 2002 |

He has won the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the Presidential National Medal of the Arts. His 1966 book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, and 1972's Learning from Las Vegas (with Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour) laid the groundwork of critical debate for decades.

Yet, among his 400 or so projects, Robert Venturi, FAIA, Hon. FRIBA, and principal of Venturi Scott Brown & Associates, Philadelphia, had never done a hospital. Whole university healthcare campuses, to be sure — at Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — with his wife, business partner, co-author, and co-educator Brown. But never a clinical facility.

Until now. Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network will get the Venturi treatment for a seven-story, 205,000-sq.-ft. cardiac care and medical/surgical center in Bethlehem, Pa. Partnering with VSBA on the Building Team: FreemanWhite, Charlotte, N.C., which specializes in healthcare design. (At press time, no contractor had been selected.) Groundbreaking for the $60 million center is scheduled for next spring, with completion set for two years later.

The choice of VSBA was hardly accidental. Lehigh Valley Hospital's president and CEO, Elliot J. Sussman, M.D., is something of an arts patron.

For the new center, "Dr. Sussman wanted to support some local talent and bring some notoriety to the project," says VSBA managing director James Kolker.

Planning for the new facility has centered on "access, wayfinding, and clarity," says Kolker, who holds BS and MArch degrees from Columbia and has been with VSBA for 16 years. "When people come to a hospital, as patients or visitors, they're disoriented. They need to know how to get around, from the front of the house to the back, and you have to keep that as simple as possible, not overwhelming."

In typical Venturi-Brown fashion, the design calls for an iconic figure. "Bob and Denise and Elliot were throwing out wild ideas, and the 'H' in the hospital directional sign came up," says Kolker. The building will feature a giant H at its entrance (see rendering).

But the icon is no joke. "It became a wayfinding tool, a funneling tool to guide people from the parking lot to the gateway," says Kolker.

Another important design element for the hospital is the choice of two primary materials: red brick, to create a sense of comfort while signifying the civic nature of the building; and an exposed steel frame, to relate the center's technical nature. "It's high-tech, high-touch, as the hospital people say," says Kolker.

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