Two of Los Angeles' most renowned design firms-CO Architects and Rios Clementi Hale Studios-collaborated on the new $280-million Kaiser Permanente hospital in the Panorama City section of Los Angeles. Professionals at both firms say starting early in the process was key to the successful melding of disciplines and final results. From tree-shaded parking lots, to the greenscaped entrance, to a rooftop garden-dining terrace, the 400,000-square-foot Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center (PCMC) is deeply imbued with landscaping, despite a tight urban footprint, and the often hot, dry climate of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.

CO Architects designed the 218-bed hospital, while Rios Clementi Hale Studios handled the landscape. In the interview below, representatives of the two firms discuss the collaboration for a hospital development. Principal of CO Architects Thomas W. Chessum, AIA, responded on behalf of his firm, and Senior Associate Anthony Paradowski, and Landscape Designer Carolyn Sumida, LEED AP, responded on behalf of Rios Clementi Hale Studios.

What were the keys to the successful collaboration on this project?

Thomas W. Chessum, AIA: One key is that Rios Clementi Hale Studios was involved from the beginning, even at the master-planning level. Thus, the landscape team gained a deep understanding of the needs of the hospital and project, the campus, traffic flow, context, and the climate of the San Fernando Valley. They were extremely knowledgeable, and were able to get their ideas in early. They helped shape the site design process, because they were not an afterthought. At CO Architects, we want to not only design a superb hospital, but to the maximum extent possible, a garden hospital. Studies have shown that patients do better in natural settings, with daylighting. PCMC was seated in a constricted urban setting, but Rios Clementi Hale Studios helped us get the most out of the site.

Anthony Paradowski: CO Architects had the foresight and consideration to integrate our office as early as possible for the best possible result. One advantage we had is that we are a full-service design firm, so as landscape architects, we intrinsically understand the process and language of architects. Working with architecture firms such as CO Architects we base our actions on collaboration. Generally, we know what suggestions or improvements will incur reasonable trade-offs and beneficial gains.

How do your designs, both for the building and the landscape, fit the programmatic needs of the hospital?

Chessum: The building is organized in a “bundled” vertical design that responds to the urban context of a constrained site. All floors are organized around an east-west-oriented core of support functions, which allows for large, open, flexible “loft” spaces on diagnostic and treatment floors to make way for ever-changing medical functions. We also organized the building to connect to the existing hospital on the campus. The intent was to create opportunities for improved delivery of patient care, as well as an environment that supported the staff. Among those features-which connect very much to the landscape program-are rooftop gardens bounded by patient rooms, physical therapy space, and conference/teaching rooms, as well as the outdoor, roof-top dining garden and meeting court that serves both old and new hospitals from a central location.

Paradowski: For a hospital, it is important that the landscape be warm and welcoming, as well as structured. The selected landscape materials, planters, and foliage are imbued with these values. We favored a Southern Californian look in both colors and design. Additionally, we wanted drought-tolerant plantings that were relatively easy to maintain, both at grade and on the rooftop garden-dining terrace. The landscape also mirrors the open-plate design of the hospital, but resolves in a different effect. There's a meditative quality to the plaza gardens. Generally speaking, a hospital visit can be stressful, so we wanted the approach to be as peaceful and healthful as possible.

The main entrance to Panorama City Medical Center is through a plaza-garden. Explain the design

Paradowski: The patient drop-off zone and the plaza garden, which are also outdoor rooms, are important in setting the tone for the hospital. We were also aware of the intentional use of daylighting, and what patients and staff inside would see through the windows, so the design complements that. Southern California builders should take advantage of the climate, perhaps especially in a hospital setting.

Chessum: The whole campus has a unified feeling to it, aided by the consistent landscape, and we wanted that feeling to be expressed in the entrance in particular, which is obviously a focal point for many using the hospital. We really like the landscape foliage-it is green, yet drought-tolerant. It looks just right for the Southern California climate.

Tell us about the local climate, topography, and density of the site, and what that meant to the design

Chessum: It is hot and flat in the San Fernando Valley, the home of PCMC. Additionally, we had a tight, dense footprint to work with. It made sense to employ shading and to use the rooftops for added green space.

Carolyn Sumida, LEED AP: A rooftop garden-dining terrace made a lot of sense for the tight footprint. There is limited space on the ground, which is reserved for parking, access, fire lanes, and other critical needs. The rooftop garden uses drought-tolerant climbing vines and tree in containers. We did not have a lot of planting depth to work with, so it is not technically a “cool roof,” or “green roof.” Nevertheless, the shading from the trees and the wall-clinging vines do cool down the area for users of the dining terrace. For summers, it helps that the rooftop, outdoor dining terrace was placed on the north side of the building, the more shady side, which is where you want to be on a hot sunny day in the San Fernando Valley.

The San Fernando Valley and parking lots-the words “heat islands” come to mind. What was done on this score?

Paradowski: In automobile-centric Southern California, one's first impression of an establishment, hospital or otherwise, is often the parking lot. One can feel ignored and forlorn in a parking lot, or invited and already taken care of by the establishment in question. So, parking lot landscapes are a great opportunity-especially for a hospital. For PCMC, we designed lineal in-ground planters that collect rainwater while demarcating individual parking spaces. The planters water the Robinia pseudoacacia trees, which were selected for their hardiness and drought tolerance. Yet the trees are green, shady, and flowering. They shade the cars, cool down the parking lot, and express a life-affirming sense of welcome.

In this age of online communications, did CO Architects and Rios Clementi Hale Studios exchange Building Information Modeling (BIM) documents or other documents?

Chessum: This project was started in the 1990s, before BIM. But today we do all of our projects as collaborations using BIM methods, with both our design collaborators as well as construction partners. This just reinforces a discipline of early and constant involvement. However, it is not a substitute for personal interaction.

Paradowski: Landscape and building architects do visit the same website and view BIM documents. It's already happening. Though, as we've seen here, successful collaboration can still be done face to face! HD

Julie D. Taylor, Hon. AIA/LA, is Principal, Taylor & Company.

For more information on CO Architects, visit http://www.coarchitects.com. For more information on Rios Clementi Hale Studios, visit http://www.rchstudios.com.

Healthcare Design 2009 August;9(8):50-53