The design of clinic spaces must meet the needs of multiple audiences—patients, the medical team, the community, and the healthcare organization—while taking into account the external pressures affecting the industry as a whole. It’s critical for designers to interact with all these audiences, as each has a significant impact on the approach to creating a healthcare space.

This is never more evident than in multicultural neighborhoods, as we experienced with two recent projects: Smiley’s Clinic and Whittier Clinic, both in Minneapolis.

With each clinic, the design had to balance the unique needs and demographics of the surrounding patient base to develop functional, efficient modules that improve patient outcomes. In each project, HGA Architects and Engineers (HGA) involved the community in the design process to generate personal investment. As a result, the neighborhoods have embraced the clinics, both of which have increased their patient outcomes with better service for their communities.


Smiley’s Clinic
The University of Minnesota Physicians’ Smiley’s Clinic serves a large, diverse population that includes non-English-speaking Somali and Hmong families. When the clinic moved to its new location in south Minneapolis, the staff wanted a simple wayfinding method throughout the space to best serve its clientele. So the design team implemented a universal, color-based scheme that would allow anyone—regardless of language skills—to find their way around the clinic.

The staff at Smiley’s Clinic provides a full range of services for families in the Seward and Phillips neighborhoods, including general family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, chronic and acute conditions, social services, patient education, and referrals to specialists. The staff organizes its physicians, residents, and nursing staff into three interdisciplinary teams.

To design an interior that worked for both the staff and their patients, HGA’s team met with clinic staff who had worked within the area’s diverse population base. Ideas for interior wayfinding ranged from nature scenes to a use of various patterns to employing multiple colors. After consideration, the clinic staff and design team opted for the use of color—it was easiest understood in multiple languages and within budget.

From there, the group chose to use green, orange, and purple—bold colors that contrast nicely with one another, work well in combination, and are comfortable and familiar to African and Asian cultures.

The staff also requested a central gathering area where doctors, residents, and nurses could discuss patient issues. To fulfill this need, HGA designed a triangular precepting area that serves a dual purpose. First, each side of the triangle has color-coded exam rooms in orange, purple, and green. Each side has a three-physician team assigned to it, providing a full range of services. Within this color system, patients, staff, and visitors are directed to their destinations by specific color.

Second, this central location encourages staff to interact spontaneously, as everybody passes by the area throughout the day. Neutral wall paint allows the team colors to pop, while large geometric soffits over nurses’ stations and coordinated carpeting further reinforce the color themes.


Whittier Clinic
Hennepin County Medical Center’s (HCMC) Whittier Clinic transformed a former brownfield site into a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood clinic. It’s a dynamic and colorful destination that welcomes public interaction and celebrates the neighborhood’s ethnic and cultural diversity.

The 60,000-square-foot outpatient clinic with 48 exam rooms includes imaging, pharmacy, lab, occupational/physical therapy, sports medicine, and a physician-residency training program.

Here, HGA again worked with multiple audiences, including the surrounding neighborhood, community leaders, and clinic staff, in the pre-design process. The community was actively involved in the project planning, attending meetings with HGA’s design team, to ensure the medical center engaged with the community. As a result, the building’s design includes meeting rooms for neighborhood groups that are placed in a prominent corner of the building with windows to the sidewalk, reinforcing the community connection.

Additional exterior elements were employed to enhance the neighborhood experience. The center’s most prominent design feature is a public plaza at the main entry. It includes concrete planters that also function as seating, while a canopy/trellis reinforces a pedestrian scale and defines the street edge.

Because the neighborhood groups also asked for a dynamic façade, a mix of materials was incorporated, which minimize the building’s massing. Colorful accents—blue, orange, green, and purple—reflect HCMC’s branding as well as community characteristics.

The exterior is a lively juxtaposition of reddish-brown brick, metal panels, staggered window patterns, and multiple canopies inspired by the materials and massing of neighboring buildings. Colored-glass windows further reinforce HCMC’s branding. At night, programmable LED fixtures in the small windows provide a light show for the neighborhood.

Inside, the entry to each department is branded with HCMC’s four colors and reinforced by over-scaled graphic images. Here again, HGA chose the use of color throughout the interior as a wayfinding tool for the area’s culturally diverse patients, many of whom speak little or no English. Patients are given color-coded cards that help them find their way.

The clinic’s layout features a unique module, in which exam rooms are clustered around a central work area for both nurses and physicians. In addition to improving communication between staff, the layout gives the central work area clear visual access to each exam room, thus improving workflow and staff efficiency.

To enhance the site’s transformation from industrial eyesore to urban amenity, HGA incorporated several pocket parks and urban gardens into the landscape with low-maintenance, low-irrigation native plants, as well as hardy species that thrive in urban environments. This has made the clinic a favorite outdoor gathering spot for the casual passerby.

With both Smiley’s Clinic and Whittier Clinic, the design team worked with multiple audiences—the staff, the medical team, and the community members—for input in the design process. As a result, the spaces are flexible and efficient, and they reflect what patients and staff need.  

Gary Nyberg, AIA, is vice president and principal for the Healthcare Practice Group at HGA in Minneapolis. Christine Guzzo Vickery, CID, EDAC, is vice president and lead healthcare interior designer for the Healthcare Practice Group at HGA in Minneapolis. For more information visit