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Architects work to ensure hospital will be a landmark

August 12, 2016
MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women's Pavilion rendering
An artist's rendering shows how the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women's Pavilion is likely to look when it opens in 2019.

Sometimes it helps to air the dirty laundry.

That’s what architects working on the new Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion discovered in the planning process for the $385 million, 10-story project slated to open in 2019. Groundbreaking for the facility, which will be located at the corner of Courtenay Drive and Calhoun Street, was held today.

No stranger to what architects call “trash” or tracing paper, Jeff Tyner, a managing principal at Perkins+Will, the architectural firm tasked with the project, is having to use a lot of it. One factor making the Medical University of South Carolina’s project so much fun is how well they have integrated families and staff into the planning process.

One item of hot discussion: family respite areas, including a place to do dirty laundry so parents can stay close to their sick children. With parents in the room during planning sessions with the architects, that issue rises to the top along with the more traditional details of meeting building codes and clinical needs.

“Yes, we have the ideas, but really MUSC is the expert. It’s interesting because this project is a great example of how family is implemented into the project,” Tyner said, referring to MUSC’s Family Advisory Council, which has been a cornerstone of the project.

“They are a second layer of experts on this project. We have clinical experts, but we also have family experts that are weaving into this process that influence how this project is laid out. So when the families show up in three years, they’ll feel like this work is from their point and not just the doctor’s standpoint. And that’s really important.”

When budget constraints required dropping some square-footage and the architects brought up competing space needs, such as where to put the laundry rooms, they got out the trash paper and markers and brainstormed as a team.

“Usually, through that process, we come up with a better option. Because it’s not our solution, it’s everybody’s solution,” Tyner said. “I mean I’ve been doing this for 35 years, designing nothing but hospitals, so I know a lot about hospitals. But every mother that’s spent 50 days in the NICU with her baby knows a heck of a lot more about a NICU than I do. I know what’s required and what makes it most efficient, but what makes it personal and what makes it function for a mother and father and siblings, they’re going to know that better than I do.”

Brandon Walter, a medical planner with Perkins+Will who also has worked closely with the project, said decisions usually are made faster when there are fewer cooks in the kitchen. However, he’s been pleasantly surprised.

“It’s been a good collaboration between everyone, which is rare to find in a project like this. Normally you have big personalities that drive what’s going to happen. It’s been a good experience with MUSC and leadership promoting that collaboration and facilitating the groups to help the designers make the decisions and shape the space.”

Walter said he’s worked on other projects that has paid lip service to a family-centered planning process, but it fails to materialize.

“While here, it’s been overwhelming. People have rearranged their schedules to be at the meetings and give their input. MUSC made a commitment to include family members in all the meetings, which is actually unique. I think a lot of facilities like to do that and talk about that from the beginning but it kind of fizzles out.”

All through the schematic design meetings and the clinical discussions, MUSC brought in family members.

“And it’s been great because while there may be debate on how to do something from a clinical side, usually the department heads or the leaders in those discussions have always stopped and said, ‘what’s the parent perspective?’ and it’s been a great experience.”

Iconic Landmark

Architecturally-speaking, the new 625,000 square-foot facility will be a landmark in Charleston.

“It’s going to have a very prominent spot in the city,” Walter said. “If you come from West Ashley, you can’t miss it. It’s somewhat like the Ashley River Tower, which is an icon for the city of Charleston. So this will be attached and adjacent to the Ashley River tower with a strong presence on Calhoun Street.”

As a medical planner, he’s not just excited about the aesthetics. He also loves how the new architecture and design will enable patients and medical staff to work better as a team. The hospital is being designed for family support in a way to empower them to be partners in their care. That means incorporating features such as family conference rooms; expanded wireless technology capabilities; and designated play and respite areas, including kitchens, lounges and laundry rooms.

“The hospital we have now is 29 years old, and they’ve been doing really great things with the facility that they have. The things that we’re doing now with the new facility are going to make it a better space, and it’s not just going to be a new space. We’re working with them and their flows and to figure out how they operationally want to work. It’ll give them that much more of an environment to provide the care that all the family members who have come in have raved about.”

Highlights of the new building include:

- Pediatric procedural-surgical capacities unlike any in the region, including rooms for bronchoscopy, endoscopy, surgery and interventional radiology.

- An entire floor dedicated to the care of children with cancer.

- A comprehensive pediatric heart center.

- Two obstetrical operating rooms that integrate children’s care and obstetrical services seamlessly, enhancing safety and improving outcomes in high-risk pregnancies.

- The state’s largest neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), consisting of 82 private rooms, as well as rooms that can accommodate multiple births (twins, triplets), making MUSC one of only three facilities in the country to feature couplet-care rooms where newborns and mothers can recover together in an intensive care setting.

- An Advanced Fetal Care Center, the state’s first comprehensive prenatal center for families expecting babies with complex congenital birth defects and medical problems.

- A “stork” elevator to transport mothers from the hospital’s entrance directly to the fourth-floor maternity pavilion.

- A rooftop helicopter pad connected by an express elevator to the state’s only dedicated Level 1 pediatric trauma center, pediatric trauma rooms and pediatric emergency room.

One of Walter’s favorite architectural areas is the seventh floor, which includes public amenities. He likes that the location is not on a lower floor, as in the case for most hospitals.

“As you come into the public floor and the dining areas and the Child Life play area, all of that is set up in the building, and it’s going to have some really great views of the river and of the city itself. It’s unique in that it’s positioned in the middle of the building, so it’s not as far for people to go, especially for people in the inpatient units, so you’re not travelling all the way down to the bottom floor and then back out.”

Other important features: security and easy way-finding, so corridors do not feel like a maze. All patients and visitors enter through a main lobby on the ground level. 

“Once you hit security and make your way to the public elevators to take you to your floor, you’ve arrived at your destination, because once you come out of the elevator, you’re on that service line floor. So you’re on the cardiac floor or you’re on the ICU floor. There’s no going through corridors to try and find your way.”

It’s one reason windows were a key part of the design focus as a way-finding tool to help orient patients in the building. Light and the outdoors also have healing qualities. The same is true of play areas for children. Because of parent input, there will be Child Life advocate rooms on each floor. Even the pre-operative areas are set up so children can be kept focused on play therapy before they go into a procedure. “Having those play areas on each floor where the child can get away from their room is great.”

Patients First

Tyner, a parent himself, said he also likes how the building incorporates respite areas and natural lighting.

“To us, it’s about opening the building to the outside, because in every respect, there are so many studies on healing and the effect of nature. Charleston is such a beautiful city, but this site is beautiful too, and the view that you’re going to have from this site will just be phenomenal.”

One of his favorite features is a glass box that he calls “the lantern” that extends up the southeast side of the building. “For those families that need to get away from life for 30 minutes and need a quiet room, it’ll be the best room in the hospital. It’s contemplative, and there’s one on every floor except the 10th floor.”

Another key feature is a new atrium playroom that was re-worked in part because of family input. They hope to have that open onto the roof for an outdoor play area that’s sequestered. “It’s about a third of the size of a football field, and it could be just a wonderful space. But we have to find a donor for it,” Tyner said.

“We’re structuring it to handle the loads. I’m envisioning playground equipment out there, a lot of greenery. I mean, this rooftop area is what people will talk about because you’ll have vistas on both sides, and families need a place to get outside.”

Tyner, in addition to coordinating with MUSC staff and parents, also is working with about 50 Perkins+Will personnel who range from architects to telecommunication specialists. The driving force for them all is that everyone is focused on the child. “Everybody has that commonality and that’s really nice to at least know that everyone is on the same page and starting point.”

No one wants children to see other children scared and sick. Their goal is to reduce the fear and anxiety that can come with going to a hospital. He wants it to feel more like a hotel.

“The architecture has a lot to do with that – what they see when they come in, the aromas and colors, all of it needs to be calming and comforting at the same time. If you can see the outdoors, what the lighting is like. I want the kids to be in awe, but I want their anxiety level to be brought down too. Maybe that they would think, ‘What else can I find around the corner?’ instead of, ‘Oh man, what’s around the corner?’”

About the Author

Dawn Brazell