The previous Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage had become obsolete, both in function and the ability to deliver up-to-date mental healthcare. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services set out to create a new mental health facility that would improve the quality of care to better serve the community.

Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc.'s winning submission included the following planning goals: safety, a noninstitutional feel, maximized natural light, and freedom of movement within a controlled environment. The new institute is already being referred to as a “Center for Recovery” for its unique design approach, which embodies a therapeutic environment.

The institute supports adolescents and adults, including volunteer and court-ordered admissions. This 120,000-sq.-ft., 72-bed replacement facility uses rich exterior colors such as red and yellow, complemented by calming neutral colors and woods for the interior palette. The interior took advantage of natural light and gives an open feeling that contradicts the normal aspects of a therapeutic facility.

Project category: New construction (completed April 2005)

Chief administrator: Ron Adler, Director and CEO, (907) 269-7100

Firm: Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc., (415) 356-8519

Design team: William Roger, Principal-in-Charge, Planning and Design; Sam D'Amico, Senior Project Designer; Peter Grandine, Senior Medical Planner; Belinda Young, Project Architect (Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc.); Ken Burkhart, Project Manager; Jeffrey P. Koonce, Principal-in-Charge, Architect of Record (Koonce Pfeffer Bettis, Inc.)

Photography: Kevin Smith

Total building area (sq. ft.): 120,000

Construction cost/sq. ft.: $304

Total construction cost (excluding land): $36,500,000

The building has four major components: entry, administration wing, gymnasium/therapy wing, and patient wings. All components are organized around a central “Main Street” spine. The Main Street concept provides clear, simple organization and movement throughout the facility. At the heart of the building is an enclosed, skylit winter garden that is used as a gathering place to create a sense of community. The winter garden, coupled with a clerestory along the length of Main Street, provides natural light for the center of the building.