The fact that the new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is the tallest children’s hospital in the world is no accident; it’s a necessity. Located on the tightest of urban sites—1.8 acres on the campus of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, just north of Chicago’s downtown business hub—the 23-story, 1,255,000-square-foot facility integrates inpatient and ambulatory care, diagnostic and treatment areas, and clinical support with creative space solutions that seem tailor-made for the site’s limitations.

The project has replaced and nearly doubled the size of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital, a nationally recognized leader in pediatric care that’s been an icon in the Chicago community for more than 125 years.

The building’s footprint makes up roughly 90% of the site’s 1.8 acres. This limited urban site required creative design solutions, achieved by a trio of architecture firms: ZGF Architects LLP, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, and Anderson Mikos Architects Ltd.

“The form of the building was interpreted as a composition of giant ‘building blocks,’ with vertical and horizontal bands of glass in effect the ‘mortar’ holding these blocks together,” explains Martin Wolf, FAIA, principal at Solomon Cordwell Buenz. “In some cases, the mortar becomes free flowing and sinuous, to further respond to the special functions at the sky lobby levels or the multilevel lobbies at the ground floor.”


Up to the ED
The final design includes a second-floor emergency department (ED); diagnostic and outpatient clinics on the third and fourth floors; and radiology, operating rooms, psychiatry, and support services on the remaining lower levels of the building. While the location of the 45-bed Kenneth and Anne Griffin Emergency Care Center on the second floor may raise some eyebrows, its positioning has actually led to many advantages.

“We had to jump through some hoops to prove to the state that it would be safe. It’s one of the first second-floor EDs without a ramp up for the ambulance,” says Hugh Campbell, principal of ZGF Architects. “It also protects the ED from any community disasters or similar situations, because all of that activity would be on the ground floor.” In addition, the second-floor location adds an extra level of security because it helps to cut down on foot traffic from the street level, which is important in any ED. “It’s worked out very, very well,” says Bruce Komiske, chief of new hospital design and construction at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Patients arriving by ambulance are transported up via dedicated emergency elevators, while those arriving from the parking structure can enter via bridge directly to the check-in desk and triage.

“We conducted time and motion studies and were able to show that it was actually faster to take the patients up in the dedicated elevators than it would be to have an ambulance drive up a ramp and turn around,” says ZGF’s Sue Ann Barton, principal. “We also found that around 70% of ED patients arrive via the garage, so being able to connect to the garage was important.”


The family that stays together
The upper floors are home to inpatient services, divided by two levels of public and family support spaces on the 11th and 12th floors—including the noteworthy Crown Sky Garden on the 11th floor, an interactive indoor garden, highlighted by a bamboo grove framed by a multicolored light wall that changes color in response to motion.

A transparent overlook deck called the Tree House can be found on the 12th floor, allowing patients, families, and visitors to view the garden from above, and making for a spectacular view.

“The Crown Sky Garden was not initially in the program,” Barton says, “but we worked with the Kids Advisory Board, and they really wanted a space like this. Some of these kids spend their entire summers indoors, so a space like this—especially in such an urban environment—was really important.”

Other amenities on the 11th floor include the cafeteria, gift shop, and a large conference center, while the 12th floor features a chapel, teen lounge, central playroom, hair salon, and family sleep center. This pair of floors serves as a “second lobby” to the inpatient areas of the facility. “It’s really the family room of the hospital,” says Campbell. “The location of these spaces well above street level also provides great light into the space, as well as great views,” Barton says.


Shifting gears
"One significant challenge was the resolution of the building massing into a cohesive, understandable composition,” Wolf says. “Functional requirements of the diagnostic and treatment floors, which constituted the lower half of the building, in combination with the functional requirements of the bed floors and the top half of the building, resulted in two different geometries, respectively, for these basic floor plates. The overall massing thus is characterized by a marked shift at mid-height of the building, corresponding to the shift in these functions, clearly seen in the setbacks and cantilevers where the shift occurs.”

“This project was driven by stacking more than any project I’ve ever worked on because it’s such a tight site,” Campbell says. “The solutions we came up with as far as the public spaces and support spaces in the middle of the building and the second-floor emergency department were really driven by that, as well as some collocation needs. There are spaces located in the middle floors that would normally be found in the basement, for instance. Those choices, in turn, really influenced the outside of the building and pushed it in certain directions. The building evolved from the inside out.”

The design for the procedural floors presented its own set of unique challenges.

“It was clear very early on in planning that placing all of the operating rooms and interventional rooms, and their recovery spaces on a single floor plate was not viable,” says Bob Schaefer, vice president and senior project architect with Anderson Mikos Architects, the design lead for the procedural floors. “Even with splitting the programs across the fifth, sixth, and seventh floors, there were still large floor plates that created challenges in trying to reduce horizontal distances from pre-op to surgery, from surgery to recovery, and to patient and material elevators.

“Ultimately, the procedural floors were organized around a central clean supply core,” Schaefer continues. “This allowed for a consistent layout for proper placement of clean and soiled elevators to the sterile reprocessing area on the ninth floor above, as well as the patient flow to and from the pre-op, first stage and second stage recovery areas, and elevators on each procedural floor. Each of the three procedural floors was arranged with soft space to the east that could be used for expansion of both procedural and pre- and post-op spaces. The need for staff to quickly communicate between each of the three procedural floors without leaving the semirestricted areas was solved by creating a clean stair within the same opening as one of the exit stairs, but as a physically and fire-separated ‘scissor stair’ connecting floors five, six, and seven within the semirestricted areas.”

The new building is
also connected via bridges to the neighboring Prentice Women’s Hospital as well as a parking structure. Visitors with non-emergencies are therefore given the option of a ground-level drop-off or entry from the second-level bridge off the parking structure.

Ground-floor visitors can ride elevators from the lobby or take the “diving bell” elevator to the second floor, where they’ll access the public elevators between the second and 11th floors. A second set of elevators serves floors 11 and above, for added security.

Wayfinding is enhanced through the hospital’s five distinct color palettes that were created using themes of elements found in Chicago and surrounding areas: city, lake, park, woods, and prairie. There are symbolic elements from each palette that are subtlely woven into the interior design solution. And many of Chicago’s most prominent cultural institutions contributed installations to the hospital, which  help to firmly establish the new building as a truly “Chicago” institution.

From the John G. Shedd Aquarium, whose near-life-size replica of a mother whale and her calf is suspended 24 feet in the air in the lower level lobby, to the Pierce Fire Truck Co. with support from the Chicago Fire Department, which contributed a custom 3,500-pound fire truck cab, 23 local groups contributed creative elements that make the building more like a children’s museum than a hospital.

These installations ensure that every floor has a feature to captivate young patients. And their reinforcement of the hospital’s deep connection to the Chicago community is important to Komiske, celebrating the theme of “What Makes Chicago Special” in active, colorful fashion.

“I was tasked with asking our city’s most important cultural institutions to  join with our design team to transform our hospital into a true healing environment,” he says. “They responded at a level beyond what we had expected. With the dust settled, I think we have a unique children’s hospital that was designed by the city to be part of the city.”  

For more information, please visit Lurie Children's will be featured in a session taking place at the HEALTHCARE DESIGN Conference: "Virtual Mockups—The Tie That Binds at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital" from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5. For more information, please vist

Project Summary

Completion Date: June 2012

Owner: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

Architects: ZGF Architects LLP; Solomon Cordwell Buenz; Anderson Mikos Architects Ltd.

Consultants: M/E/P Engineer: Affiliated Engineers Inc.; Structural Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates;

Civil Engineer: V3 Companies of Illinois Ltd.; Landscape Architect: Cyla Design Associates Inc.

Sky Garden Design: Mikyoung Kim Design

Graphics/Signage: Mitchell Associates

Technology Infrastructure: Lassen Associates

Medical Equipment Planning: Walsh Consulting Group

Food Service: Rippe Consulting

Construction Manager: Mortenson-Power, Joint Venture,

M. A. Mortenson Co.; Power Construction Co. LLC

Program Manager: Rise-Morgan, Joint Venture, The Rise Group, LLC,

Morgan Construction Consultants

Photography: Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing; Pete Eckert © Eckert & Eckert

Total Building Area: 1,255,000 GSF

Total Construction Cost: $605,000,000

Cost/Sq. Ft.: $482