Assimilating Art Into Healthcare Design Projects
At first glance, an art installation may appear to be the simple effort of hanging a painting on the wall. But to achieve a truly effective art program, designers require much more than a hammer and nail to integrate their chosen pieces into a building.
Case in point for interior planning firm Spellman Brady & Co. (St. Louis) is the new Springfield Regional Medical Center in Springfield, Ohio, a 254-bed, 475,000-square-foot, full-service medical center that opened in fall 2011.
When Diana Spellman, president of Spellman Brady, and Kathryn Brucker, project manager and team leader at the firm, were hired to execute an art program at the facility, they found the project to be a learning experience on a number of levels.
Bringing it together
To start, the new regional facility was replacing two existing hospitals that served Springfield. “So one of the most important things was to be able to extrapolate the culture from each of those facilities and how they delivered healthcare into the community while integrating historical images into their artwork master plan. Our job was to represent both of their views and bring them together,” Spellman says.
And while the undertaking was a challenge on its own, the team found the schedule would be, as well.
Though ground had been broken on the facility in 2008, Spellman Brady wasn’t brought on board until mid-2010, when a new vice president of operations was hired at the medical center and realized that the project planning to date hadn’t yet addressed artwork.
So within the span of just over a year, as opposed to the ideal multi-year planning a project might normally have, the team got to work on figuring out how art could be used to assimilate the two communities and to do so in a building that had already been designed.
On its accelerated schedule, the team first had to determine how best to use the conservative budget had been set aside for the new art program. “We, as a team, had to map out very quickly in our initial meetings with the facility’s committee what needed to happen and when,” Spellman says.
Among its traditional planning exercises, Spellman Brady dives into goals for branding and how a facility wants to be portrayed in the community in order to best align its interiors with that message. Part of this process includes surveys of staff, patients, and community members.
Art pieces are then chosen to reflect the results of that research. “The art needs to be representative of items, imagery, and materials that appeal to the community,” Spellman says.
The team also worked with local and regional artists to bring a Springfield flair to the overall design.
Outside of the pieces covered in the facility’s initial budget, some specialty pieces were requested, as well. Among those was an approximately 50-to-60-foot-wide “heritage” wall. The piece was representative of the two hospitals coming together and includes citations of historical documents dating back to the 1800s.
“That was many months of development in itself. Along with that, we incorporated digital imagery—that software had to be created in order to add a digital component to the static heritage piece,” Brucker says.
Making it work
Another specialty piece showcased the importance of integrating artwork properly into its physical environment. The team designed a two-story atrium sculpture that would hang from the ceiling and be representative of a local creek. The piece first had to work with the layout of the architectural elements already designed—for example, fitting between light fixtures and withstanding the movement of air from the building’s HVAC system.
“There’s the final aesthetic, but then there’s the planning to make it successful from a logistics, mechanical, and engineering perspective,” Brucker says.
The next step was working with the fire marshal to ensure the installation wouldn’t impede safety operations of the building.
“Our original design, according to the fire marshal, would hinder the fall of the sprinkler system, if it was engaged. So we had to redesign and we came up with a concept that’s still of Buck Creek, but it’s on a vertical plane,” Brucker says.
So now if those sprinklers were to be turned on, the water could fall freely around the sculpture.
In addition, the designers also had to carefully select a ceiling location to install the piece, with certain points off limits, again due to the already designed fire and smoke system. “These are very detailed engineering elements that an art consultant has to look at to design in the most effective manner,” Spellman says.
For the Springfield project, early involvement of the art team wasn’t feasible. But the designers at Spellman Brady say the lessons that came out of the project illustrate the importance of planning for installations right alongside the designers and contractors collaborating in the schematic phase.
Brucker urges early consideration of how the art can be more architecturally integrated, and to avoid planning as if “it’s just a framed piece of paper on a wall. Because, architecturally, specialty pieces can be designed in and become the entire environmental experience,” she says.
That environmental experience can cover a lot of ground, too. For example, for a piece being installed in the main lobby, assessments will range from whether you can see it from the parking lot, what the approach is like coming up to it, or how it will be lit at night.
“When you walk into a building or come onto a campus, what you see and touch are imagery, landscape, furnishings, and materials. The building houses all of those things,” Brucker says—which is why all those elements, together, need to play into the big picture.