Sunshine on Cancer Care
The urban project site, amid low-rise storefronts and mid-rise medical buildings, was definitely not a garden spot. The 14-story Arnold Pavilion an opaque beige box dating from 1981 with narrow horizontal bands of windows towered over a parking lot and a one-story drive-up bank on the corner of the block. The only piece that extended from the smooth walls of the existing building was an entrance canopy for cars. Little daylight penetrated the facade, and visitors and patients were unseen from the street.
Ironically, this tightly closed and densely packed facility had also been designed by NBBJ. It vividly illustrated the change over 20 years in professional attitudes toward cancer patient care. It was so dark inside, says Dallam, "It was literally like walking into a building with sunglasses on."
Remodeling a Healthcare Environment
The addition and renovation redresses this condition, inviting pedestrians with warm colors and exciting spaces in an open, light-filled entry, lobby, and circulation area. Terraces on the second and third levels offer places to sit and enjoy fresh air or take in views of the Swedish Medical Center campus and the city.
A central atrium links waiting areas on the first and second levels and opens the heart of the Swedish Cancer Institute and the entire building. Artwork on the walls provides focal points for reflection, and a sculptural water feature just outside the lobby enriches the immediate environment.
Visual access down to the gallery corridor at the basement level which is also washed with daylight and up to the second floor waiting area give the lobby and the front desk a more welcoming quality than one might expect in a tightly programmed hospital environment.
High-tech treatment areas are tucked back into the core and the rear of the ground floor of the building, and renovated exam rooms fill much of that floor and the floor above.
Human scale and comfort is in evidence everywhere, but the design does not resort to residential language or new-age cliches. The feel is distinctly institutional strong, permanent, and purposeful in outlook.
Therapy in a Garden
At the top level, the achievement of the design is the most clear. Its expansive terrace, under a carefully detailed, high-tech steel and glass canopy, wraps around the glass-enclosed "infusion area." It is here that chemotherapy, one of the most stressing and medically intensive aspects of cancer therapy, is administered.
This floor affords an optimal combination of privacy and openness to the sky, with the trellis-like canopy and bamboo and other plantings in the near view. Patients desiring more enclosure can opt for infusion treatment in small private rooms on the same floor.
Here and around the facility, landscape architect Robert Murase has collaborated with the NBBJ team to provide outdoor garden spaces with minimal planting beds designed for maximum effect.
The dreamed-of garden is everywhere, yet nowhere in particular. The natural and built worlds seem to intertwine without boundary, in metaphor and reality. According to Yin, who came to NBBJ as an intern from China, this approach is grounded in Taoist philosophy. Natural elements light, air, water, and plantings draw the occupant and visitor through the unfolding spaces of the Swedish Cancer Institute.
The remodeled treatment center now reaches beyond its doors into the stream of pedestrian traffic, changing the rhythm of the street and creating a new urban micro-environment. At the addition's top level, this outreach expresses strength, lightness, and technical confidence through the glass and steel canopy set on narrow concrete columns over the active rooftop terrace.