Art Plays Starring Role At Kaiser Permanente’s New Oregon Hospital

November 5, 2013
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Kaiser Permanente’s art program for its Westside Medical Center features 975 works of art from regional artists in Oregon and Washington states. The diverse program features everything from video to giclee prints on canvas and is incorporated throughout the new hospital and medical office building. Photo:  Stephen Cridland Staff areas get a touch of art with graphic prints. Photo:  Stephen Cridland The hospital campus includes bronze sculptures by local artists. Photo:  Stephen Cridland A waterfall made from kiln-fired glass is located near the entrance to the parking garage. Photo:  Stephen Cridland Photo:  Stephen Cridland Photo:  Stephen Cridland Photo:  Stephen Cridland A 1,200-pound glass sculpture of gingko leaves hangs under a skylight in the hospital’s glass rotunda. Photo:  Stephen Cridland Glass walls imprinted with nature images decorate this waiting room. Photo:  Stephen Cridland Photo:  Stephen Cridland Photo:  Stephen Cridland Photo:  Stephen Cridland
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The importance of artwork in the healthcare environment and its role in the healing process has become more widely accepted over the years. But that still doesn’t mean it’s always part of early design discussions.

Rather, art programs are often addressed later on in the project schedule, maybe even after the drywall is up, leaving art consultants and interior designers to scramble to find appropriate pieces that fit on existing walls and ceilings.

It’s a practice that Janelle Baglien, president, Studio Art Direct (Portland, Ore.), calls “plunk art.” “It’s when the building’s all done and somebody says ‘oh, we have to plunk something here.’”

When art programming, themes, and budgets can be established early on, the benefits can be plentiful, including site-specific installations, color palettes, and works that support the overall interior design package.

At Kaiser Permanente’s new Westside Medical Center, in Hillsboro, Ore., the art program was anything but an afterthought as the owner set out to “make the best patient environment through the use of such elements as daylighting, natural views, and outdoor awareness,” says Willy Paul, executive director, national facilities services northwest, Kaiser Permanente. “Art also plays a big part.”

Kaiser established an overarching theme, “tranquil relief through nature,” to help guide the design of its 38th hospital, which includes a 126-bed hospital and 110,000-square foot medical office building (MOB). Then it hired Baglien early on to procure an art program with AECOM (Minneapolis), which handled the architecture and interior design. Themes were created for each floor, such as forests, water, wildflowers, and mountains/long-distance views, with corresponding wall colors, flooring, carpeting, and artwork.

Going to great lengths

With guidelines in hand, Baglien began reaching out to the regional art community to commission pieces. One of those involved creating a 1,200-pound glass sculpture of gingko leaves to hang under a skylight in the hospital’s glass rotunda.

The sculpture took a year to build and involved several steps, including building a full-scale mock-up in an art studio. Then the internal steel framework of leaves and branches was created in three different pieces and assembled on-site, where its kiln-fired glass leaves in varying shades of green were affixed. The final piece measures 16 feet high and 8 feet wide.

Liza Kapisak, associate, interior project designer, AECOM (Minneapolis), says the planning allowed designers to work with the construction team to install additional supports in the skylight to support the piece. “We saved time and money by doing it early on in the process,” she says.

That planning process would also benefit coordination efforts with other artists on the project. For example, sketches were reviewed by the design team and suggestions about color and tone were made to support the project’s palette. “We could make tweaks that you can’t always make until after the fact,” Kapisak says.

There was also time to plan the placement of lighting equipment and structural supports in the walls during the construction phase, resulting in properly illuminated artwork that’s integrated into the architecture.

The facility’s wayfinding program also benefited by coordinating themes between the hospital and MOB.  For example, the hospital’s labor and delivery department features colors and imagery similar to the women’s clinic in the MOB. Complementary imagery was also planned for the walls behind the nurses’ stations and on panels next to the doors of exam rooms.

“It gives a sense of calm because you’re seeing the same thing,” Kapisak says.

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