Designing comforting, caring waiting spaces Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care

March 4, 2010
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The team of architects that designed the Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care at The Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston was determined to create waiting spaces that diminished the amount of stress and anxiety that these areas typically cause. Using the hospital's glass-encased "main street," the waiting spaces are filled with natural light while also affording patients privacy and a feeling of comfort.
Designing comforting, caring waiting spaces Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care
Hospital waiting rooms are known for inspiring a claustrophobic blend of tedium and anxiety. But the team of architects that designed the Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care at The Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston was determined to do things differently.

Four architectural firms designed the Yawkey Center. Cambridge Seven Associate served as executive architect; Michael Fieldman handled planning and design; and Perkins + Will (design architect) and Steffian Bradley Architects (local architect) were tasked with the fit-out.

The architects made the emotional experience of the patient a priority in planning the layout of the building. They also spent years meeting with staff to incorporate departmental nuances into the environment—including the waiting spaces.

The Yawkey Center features a “main street” public corridor that runs the full length of the façade and faces the city of Boston. All of the waiting rooms are adjacent to this glass-lined corridor. By day, these waiting spaces are filled with an abundance of natural light. During the evening, the activity in the building is visible from the street, along with a kaleidoscope of color that decorates the back wall of each waiting room.

A glass wall separates the main-street corridor and the waiting areas. This internal glass wall features multiple levels of opacity—from clear to translucent to opaque—depending whether the intention is to comfort or stimulate patients occupying the waiting spaces. The varying levels of opacity along the internal main corridor wall also provide psychological privacy for patients utilizing the waiting spaces.



This dynamic variance creates a rhythm along the glass corridors. The doors to each waiting room are integrated into this glazing rhythm. While some waiting room doors remain open during the day, others are closed. However, since the doors are full glass, prior to entering a waiting space, the visitor sees beyond the door to the staff waiting to greet them. There are no unsettling surprises for patients in or out of the waiting areas, and the transparency of the doors and walls encourages an open, welcoming environment and gracious attitude by hospital staff. In addition, the visual transparency between the “street” and the waiting spaces allows each waiting space to feel larger and more open—dramatically less confining and closed-off. This transparency allows waiting patients to take part in the goings-on of the hospital and the external narrative of the city.

One of the most effective ways to de-stress patients occupying a waiting space is to avoid causing a spike in anxiety prior to entry. Hospitals are large and confusing facilities to navigate. It is understandable, given how challenging it can be to establish an appointment in the first place, that families and individuals trying to find their way to an appointment often become agitated about running late. In the Yawkey Center, signage is clear, wayfinding is simple, and waiting rooms are identified by a color that begins from the soffit in the main corridor and continues throughout the professional space to the waiting room.

In addition to the actual waiting rooms, the Yawkey Center was created with a variety of additional unique spaces for patients to wait. Visitors can find a quiet respite area along the public corridor where benches are provided. When prolonged visits are necessary, guests may spend time in the building’s coffee shop or in the soothing rooftop garden.



What would a waiting space be without art? There is a preponderance of evidence to indicate that art and healing are inextricably linked. Each of the waiting spaces in the Yawkey Center is furnished with picture rails that enable the colorful exhibition of healing creativity through the hospital’s art program.
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