Daring To Be Different
“Pretty bold, isn’t it,” says Jim May, executive vice president and COO, Catholic Health Partners, talking about the colorful tile exterior adorning the new Mercy Health West hospital on the west side of Cincinnati.
The façade of the 645,000-square-foot facility, which opened last fall, comprises more than 11 blue and green colors and 19 shapes of glazed brick tiles. More than 160,000 tiles were manufactured locally for the exterior, and then shipped to New York for glazing and firing, before returning to Cincinnati to be hand-placed into forms that were eventually hung on the exterior of the building.
It’s a colorful sight to see along I-74 and has become a landmark for Mercy, which built the facility to replace two older Mercy Health facilities as well as bring new services to the area, including obstetrics and cardiology.
Mic Johnson, design principal, Architecture Field Office (Minneapolis), part of the project design team, which included AECOM (Los Angeles) and Champlin Architecture (Cincinnati), says inspiration for the design came from the area’s history with art pottery and was an effort to connect the building to the natural setting of the site, as well as introduce a new branding strategy for the entire Mercy Health organization.
And even though Mercy was looking to make a statement, the design wasn’t an easy sell.
“In the beginning, as all of these colors were being introduced, there was some resistance,” says Patti Meszaros, director, facility planning, Mercy Health and Catholic Health Partners (Cincinnati). “It’s very different to what we’ve done.”
To allay concerns, the design team employed computer generated prints, Revit, and even a full-scale model of the wall system, which was built using foam core and hung on the side of a parking garage at one of Mercy’s suburban office locations. “We started getting feedback from people saying it was exciting and felt different,” Johnson says.
In the end, May says he made the decision to give the green light on the exterior because it “spoke to the site and the services we were providing.”
The work doesn’t stop there, either. As the organization moves forward renovating older, existing hospitals in the region and adding new care centers, the exterior design from Mercy West is being tweaked to fit different locations and service needs.
For example, a new Rookwood Medical Center in Cincinnati features a similar façade treatment in a different color palette and pattern, making the Mercy connection but in a context that fits its more urban location.
Johnson says the continuity gives patients a sense that “I know I’m in Mercy,” he says. “That clicks that they’re getting the same quality care, even though the facility might have a different level of finish or service.”
It's also an example of using branding and design together to create an integrated brand experience.