Project Summary

Project Name: Claire Tow Pediatric Day Hospital

Architecture: Granary Associates

Project Team: John J. Cummiskey, Principal-in-Charge; Mahmoud Mehrabian, AIA, Project Executive; Pierre Trombert, Design Director; James D. May III, Project Architect; Richard R. Killeen, Project Coordinator; Jennifer K. J. Kenson, Senior Interior Designer; George Mejias, Director, Design & Construction, Facilities Management Division, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Construction Manager: HRH Construction Company

MEP Engineering: Jaros Baum & Bolles

Structural Engineering: Robert Silman Associates, PC

Photography: Paul Warchol Photography

Opened: July 2004

Total Square Footage: 18,630 new construction; 28,806 renovation

Total Cost and Cost/Sq. Ft.: not released

Being a kid with cancer is difficult enough, but to have to return for treatment, day in and day out, to a depressing, crowded, impersonal ward-type setting only adds to the burden. Medical leadership at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the elite and pioneering oncology treatment and research facility based in New York City, were acutely aware of this. When the time came to renovate and relocate (upward, this being the heart of Manhattan) the center's Pediatric Day Hospital, these leaders were open to ideas that would excite and involve children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. Granary Associates, a Philadelphia-based design firm, stepped up to the challenge with innovative design details—and a unique feature that led to a special fund-raising program spearheaded by physicians, nurses, and patients' families. Granary President John J. Cummiskey offers a guided tour of the facility and the thinking behind its new look.

“Memorial Sloan-Kettering (MSK) is an elite teaching facility that wants to be on the cutting edge of cancer diagnosis and treatment. MSK doesn't want to dominate cancer care, it wants to be the leading provider of new techniques and technologies and export that knowledge. Currently MSK is at capacity for inpatient treatment but not for outpatient treat-ment, and decided that now was the time to create a special place providing day care for children and their families.

“In its original master plan, MSK wished to locate this unit on the fifth floor of the nine-story tower and construct operating rooms on the floors above. We argued that a children's unit belonged on the top floor, so everyone could take advantage of the views and the open space provided by the higher ceiling heights there.

“The challenge in constructing this was to avoid disrupting the floors below. With four supercolumns defining the perimeter, we cleared space all the way down to two stories below bedrock and then lowered floors in from the top. In Manhattan, the logistics of something like this is old hat, and the project went incredibly smoothly—a tribute to the hospital engineers and the builders who put in 18 months' preparation for this.”

“This is the sunny heart of the new unit. It was interesting that during construction, hospital staff got used to seeing the views around the hospital, the sky, and planes flying overhead. They wanted to keep as much of this natural light as possible. We experimented with various ceiling treatments, including translucent glass. We finally decided on clear glass skylights with a perforated metal ceiling underneath, both to admit and diffuse the light.

“This is the light you see glowing as you enter the unit and the waiting area. The waiting area is designed like a big living room, with kids' artwork on the walls and large sails mounted on bicycle wheels that people can move to create various privacy zones.

“We wanted to make it immediately apparent, when entering this unit, that you were in the children's treatment space. You see the art on the wall, and you see a large, computerized welcome screen with a baroque gilt frame that welcomes the child and family by name. You sense immediately that this brightly lit area is geared to families and kids.”

“Today's patient areas offer a dramatic contrast from what used to be. In the previous unit there would be 20 beds crowded in the same floor area now occupied by three. Kids would come in and ‘reserve their space' by throwing a coat on the bed. And there was very little to distract them from the routines of blood tests, shunts, IVs, and the like—even though distraction is what they most wanted and needed. Now, the large, open space is broken down with vertical planes of color, wood, and glass into small treatment bays, each accommodating a small number of kids, with amenities such as TV, videos and video games, and Internet access. Kids can adjust the natural light level in each bay with horizontal sunshades. Each of these spaces can be adapted to the age and needs of the individual child, whether a toddler, adolescent or, even in some cases, a young adult who has been receiving treatment at MSK for years.”

“This unique feature, 70' long and 20' high, divides the waiting area and the playroom. It's an interactive bottle wall—literally, large, stacked, precision-cut, stainless steel baskets filled with multicolored, different-shaped bottles and pieces of glass, all enclosed and shielded by plate glass. The natural light shining from above illuminates the bottle wall in various ways as the sun moves through the sky during the day. And there are footprints in the floor where kids can stand to activate patterns of LED lighting positioned within the glass. There's one area where standing on it will activate all the lighting—but only if you're bald.

“Our design team came up with this idea and arranged to work with artist Remo Saraceni, who has long specialized in creating large, interactive devices such as the ‘walking piano' featured in the Tom Hanks movie Big. We did meet some initial resistance to this because of the cost involved, but the potential power of this wasn't lost on MSK's physicians, nurses, and parents, who conducted a special fund-raising event to support its creation and installation. The Tow family also made extraordinarily large gifts. The bottle wall is one of those things that is so unusual that you wouldn't miss it if it weren't there. But it is there, and it makes the space special.”

“I guess what we're most proud of with this design is that we've taken a space people don't like to occupy and try to avoid (as I know from personal experience) and made it into a place where young people and volunteers actually enjoy hanging out. You get the sense that the environment is working to help these kids get better.” HD