Children's Memorial Hospital, founded in 1882, reached a historic decision to leave its current campus in Lincoln Park, Illinois, and build an entirely new facility three and a half miles away in the heart of the Northwestern Medical Campus in downtown Chicago. The new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, a 1.25-million-square-foot facility, will be the tallest children's hospital in the world, standing 23 stories high on a tiny footprint of 1.8 acres. It is scheduled to open in June 2012.

Thanks to the hospital's location on the medical center campus, right off Chicago's Magnificent Mile in the heart of the city's tourist and shopping district, there was no shortage of individuals and organizations that provided input to the design team of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca LLP, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, and Anderson Mikos Architects as to the exterior design of this iconic building. As planning started on the interior design, members of the project team began thinking about an overall theme. They took their cue from Daniel Burnham, creator of the city's 100-year-old master plan that is still helping to shape Chicago: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood.”

The project team created an overall theme of “What makes Chicago special?” and engaged more than 20 of the city's cultural icons, including Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Lincoln Park Zoo, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and Adler Planetarium, to name a few. The CEO of each “community partner” was contacted and asked if he/she would lend Children's Memorial two members from the organization's creative team. Together with the project team, they worked to brainstorm ideas that would transform the hospital into a very unique healing environment.

This culminated in an all-day charrette held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, across the street from the new Lurie Children's Hospital site. More than 125 staff, project team members, architects, and representatives from each of the community partners spent the entire day coming up with creative ideas for almost all the public spaces throughout the new facility.

A week after the charrette, Shedd Aquarium contacted the hospital and asked if it would be interested in a donation of a 30-foot sculpture of a humpback whale and her calf that it needed to relocate. It took only a few minutes for the Children's Memorial team to realize that this donation could launch a nautical theme for the lower lobby of the new hospital. The only problem was that the aquarium needed to move the whale immediately, but the hospital didn't need it for two years. The Field Museum stepped in and offered to store it in its vault with dinosaur bones and other priceless pieces of its collection.

With a nautical theme confirmed by the whale donation, the next component of the lobby was inspired by the Chicago History Museum, which provided pictures of the original Captain George Streeter's boat marooned on the location of the hospital-an event that occurred more than 100 years ago and led to the naming of that part of Chicago as Streeterville. Instead of a typical coffee/snack bar planned for the lobby, Au Bon Pain (the vendor selected to operate the coffee bar) worked with the design team to recreate Captain Streeter's boat. The Shedd Aquarium's team continued on with the creation of a 2,000-gallon “coral garden” aquarium for the second-floor emergency department.

The next gift came from Pierce Manufacturing, one of the largest fire truck manufacturers in the world, located in Appleton, Wisconsin. Pierce heard about the hospital's interest in recreating a replica of the historic firehouse, which has been in its location for 100 years and is across the street from the new hospital. Instead of retrofitting an old fire truck cab for the 12th floor Crown Sky Lobby, Pierce built an entirely new cab that is handicap accessible. The only problem was Pierce knew everything about making a fire truck, but not about lifting one 12 stories into the steel frame of a building. That is where the team of Mortenson Power, the subcontractors and the construction workers, volunteered to rig and lift the fire truck more than 250 feet into the air while hundreds of people, including the city's fire commissioner, watched in amazement. Set designers from the Lookingglass Theatre Company and the Joffrey Ballet painted the fa├žade, and a consultant from KSA Lighting created two fiberglass Dalmatians to add to the excitement.

As the number of partners started to increase and the coordination of all the ideas took on a life of its own, a member of the Children's Memorial child life department, Lisa Mulvaney, volunteered to become the community partner coordinator on a part-time basis. She, along with a small steering committee comprised of the chief of design and construction, representatives from the hospital's founder's board, the foundation staff, hospital staff, and the design team, began meeting every two weeks to provide the initial review of concepts developed by the cultural organizations. After concepts are reviewed, they are shared with a larger project team, members of the clinical staff from each specific area, and, most importantly, the kids' and family advisory boards for their final review and feedback. This element has proven to be very beneficial with numerous positive changes suggested to further enhance or improve the proposals.

The last step in the process is an outside peer review by an internationally known exhibit firm, The Rouse Company, which volunteered its services. By sharing and reviewing all proposals through such an extensive review process, the hospital was assured of an overall consistency and quality, and that all safety, infectious disease, and maintenance issues were appropriately addressed.

As the exterior design of the building evolved, the kids' advisory board suggested that it still needed to be a bit more whimsical to reflect that it was a children's hospital. In response to this feedback, the exterior of the building was modified with a series of LED lights surrounding the large specialty windows and the Crown Sky Garden hand logo. The plan provides for a child to be selected each night to use a television or computer screen to access a special program that creates a unique color and frequency for the exterior lights on the building. For two hours each night, the entire exterior of the building will glow with the unique lighting designed by one of the children. A camera will be positioned across the street on the roof of the Museum of Contemporary Art so that when those selected children leave the hospital, they will take with them a photo of the hospital that they actually designed.

As a result of all the great ideas and in-kind donations from the cultural organizations of Chicago, the project team is extremely excited about the overall impact this will have on the healing environment, and, most importantly, on the patient, family, and staff experience when the building opens in June 2012. As part of the hospital's participation as a Pebble Project, the team is working on developing a study that will quantify the impact of this unique approach and assist in sharing these simple but powerful ideas with other hospitals around the world. HCD Bruce Komiske is the Chief of Design and Construction for the new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. He can be reached at bkomiske@childrensmemorial.org. Healthcare Design 2011 March;11(3):24-30

The Pebble Project creates a ripple effect in the healthcare community by providing researched and documented examples of healthcare facilities where design has made a difference in the quality of care and financial performance of the institution. Launched in 2000, the Pebble Project is a joint research effort between
The Center for Health Design and selected healthcare providers that has grown from one provider to more than 45. For a complete prospectus and application, contact Mark Goodman at mgoodman@healthdesign.org.