In 2007, the Military Health System (MHS) published its report “Evidence-Based Design: Application at the MHS,” signaling a new focus on patient-centered design that improves patient outcomes and staff satisfaction. Until then, military healthcare architecture hadn’t exactly earned a reputation for innovative design. By its own estimation, many of the MHS’s hospitals were “austere but adequate.”
But a new hospital project at Fort Belvoir in Virginia would be a proving ground for its new vision. Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is the first integrated healthcare facility serving all branches of the U.S. military’s active-duty service members, retired veterans, and their families using evidence-based design (EBD), sustainable design principles, and structured cultural change criteria.
At 1.2 million square feet, and comprising five interconnecting pavilions, the hospital marks a successful debut for a new generation of world-class military medical facilities.
Incorporating the visual arts in the healthcare environment is a fundamental component of EBD, with proven benefits for patients, family, and staff, translating into measurable outcomes in health, well-being, and cost of care. Barbara Dellinger, HDR’s principal interior designer for the project, explains, “The military recognizes that art completes the environment, makes a building more personal, and provides positive distraction.”
The campus of Fort Belvoir is located on 8,000 acres in the Northern Neck of Virginia that includes wetlands, forests, small creeks, parks, a golf course, and hiking trails. Lying along the Potomac River just west of Mount Vernon, the area is rich in historical significance, first as William Fairfax’s Belvoir Plantation, then as a battleground in the War of 1812.
The U.S. Army acquired the peninsula in 1912 as a training site for its engineering school. Military construction on the site has continued ever since, making it home for numerous agencies as well as Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
HDR and Fort Belvoir came up with several guiding principles for the hospital’s design, including its art program. The hospital would uniformly communicate the value of “caring for our own.” It would make use of the “healing energy of nature.” And, notwithstanding its rather large size, the hospital would be a friendly and welcoming place.
The project moved forward by designating the five pavilions with iconic references to the natural environment, the landscape and geography of Northern Virginia, and the Potomac Waterway: “Meadows,” “Eagle,” “Sunrise,” “and “River,” with the largest, central pavilion identified as “Oaks.”
The interior design, wayfinding, and art concepts for the hospital fell into place once these building designations had been made. Distinctive graphical logos were designed to identify each of the five buildings. Unique color palettes were developed to enhance the interior design and wayfinding concepts. A series of large photographs and photographic murals was installed in outpatient clinic reception areas and public spaces, each depicting that pavilion’s nature-based iconic subject.
A fully integrated, original art program that accomplished several aims at once—including wayfinding and positive distraction, while ensuring visual support for the design concept for each building—was planned and implemented.
Art and wayfinding
The artwork at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital contributes to the wayfinding system to reassure patients and families, reducing stress as they navigate their way. Original art was selected and commissioned to reflect the motif established for each pavilion. Along with maps and signs, clues provided by the artwork ensure that visitors are made aware of their location with a consistent thematic presentation.