La Rabida Children's Hospital, serving children with chronic illnesses and disabilities, faced the need to enhance its comprehensive interdisciplinary care to a heavily Medicaid- dependent population. When VOA was hired to plan and design the new inpatient “wing,” it was understood that every dollar must count.

Located on a promontory and within a city park, the site offers panoramic views of Lake Michigan. Challenges were lease requirements and coordination with existing buildings. The new 37-bed unit built atop an existing two-story structure complements the historical architecture, which dates back to the Columbian Exposition. The interior emphasizes healing of the whole child—physically, emotionally, and socially—in a setting that encourages families to participate in the care of their children.

The following design principles were developed through a collaborative process that involved patients, families, physicians, staff, and the community. The hospital was to be: child friendly, family friendly, service friendly, and therapeutic, and it was to encourage teamwork.

Infused in the interior design is the belief that children should be inspired by their surroundings. A nautical theme reflects the hospital's location and is both timeless and whimsical. Healthy activities are encouraged while “on board” and are supported by spaces such as the sun deck (activity area), the spa (tub room), and passenger “cabins.”

A training program introduced the unit and its principles to all employees and volunteers and has inspired a new enthusiasm for care throughout the entire hospital. Patient satisfaction has risen to a new level.

The completed project is a synthesis of operations, design, and the unique mission of the hospital, which culminates in the notion that care and treatment in healthy surroundings affect patients and their families profoundly. The success of this project has transformed La Rabida's language, culture and, above all, its ability to care for children.

Project category: New construction (completed February 2002)

Chief administrator: Paula Kienberger Jaudes, MD, President & CEO, (773) 753-8631

Firm: VOA Associates, Inc., (312) 554-1400

Design team: Percy E. Roberts III, AIA, President, Principal-in-Charge, Director of Design; Fabio G. Grego, AIA, Senior VP, Project Manager; Richard J. Basten, Jr., AIA, VP, Technical Coordinator; Kevin Snook, Senior Associate, Project Architect; Marina Fromm, AIA, VP, Medical Planner

Photography: ©Scott McDonald, Hedrich Blessing Photographers

Total building area (GSF): 20,000

Construction cost/sq. ft.: $480

Total cost (excluding land): $9,600,000 (construction)