Humanizing cancer care technology
Located in the heart of the Crozer-Chester Medical Center and adjacent to the hospital's main entrance, the new Cancer Center features its own entrance and a new enclosed walkway that connects to the hospital and two adjacent medical office buildings. The client's challenge to the architects was twofold: to create a flagship clinical facility that projects a distinctive identity in the healthcare marketplace and to successfully integrate architecture into the healing process. The result was a patient-friendly design characterized by simplicity, dignity, and rich sensory experiences. The honest design of the Center aims to reaffirm the dignity of the patient by demystifying cancer and humanizing its treatment.
Radiation oncology, located on the first floor of the atrium space, provides two new state-of-the-art linear accelerators and a sunny, double-height waiting area. Staff offices share the second floor with the Center for Integrative Health and Healing, where complementary therapies are integrated into a cancer-treatment regimen. Specific spaces for classes in nutritional cooking, massage, acupuncture, exercise, the arts, and stress management are also provided here.
A 20-bay infusion center for chemotherapy and the Personal Appearance Enhancement Center are located on the third floor, while the fourth floor houses leased medical office suites.
Despite such a broad program of uses, wayfinding throughout the building is largely intuitive. “I wanted the Center's façade to be a simple diagram of its interior spaces,” says project designer Jim Curran of the early decision to stretch a dramatic four-story, glass-walled atrium along the entire length of the building. This atrium became both the Center's focal point and organizing element.
Rather than disappearing into a labyrinth of anonymous rooms, patients can clearly see each major destination from the main lobby. “No matter where you are in treatment, you're connected visually and physically to the atrium,” says Curran. For example, both the two-story volume of radiation waiting and the balcony of the chemotherapy infusion bays are visible from the main lobby. Two important patient destinationsthe Personal Appearance Enhancement Center and patient-education resource centerare housed in a dramatic, four-story sculptural volume that projects into the atrium, a design element the architects have affectionately dubbed the “Egg.”
The two linear-accelerator vaults play a welcoming role right out front at the main entrance, rather than being buried underground or hidden within the facility (as they typically are). Even the roof of the vaults escapes the mundane; ornamental gravel paints a mosaic that becomes a cheerful part of the view from the atrium's upper levels.
Stress reduction is a key objective of the architecture, and nowhere is this patient-oriented focus more evident than in radiation oncology. “The time patients spend in the radiation vaultslarge, windowless rooms with thick concrete wallsmight be just five minutes, but they may wait 20 minutes before going in,” says Curran. “That's how anticipation develops. It's like riding a roller coasterthe scariest part is going up.” To help alleviate their stress of waiting for radiation treatment, patients in the gowned waiting area sit amidst a tranquil grove of bamboo, hidden discreetly from the main lobby by a cascading fountain.
Creating a sense of openness in the radiation waiting area was a design challenge. With the linear-accelerator vaults located directly in front of the waiting area, sunlight and views were effectively blocked. To overcome this obstacle, the architects created a double-height space and used a lead-block material instead of concrete to construct the vaults. The higher-density lead block substantially reduced the required thickness of the vaults and kept their size to a minimum. What otherwise would have been an interior space now enjoys sunlight and views outside.
The chemotherapy-infusion bays also occupy a tranquil place, on the uppermost balcony overlooking the atrium. “It can be very dehumanizing to be in a large room filled with people attached to IVs,” notes Curran, “and a single chemotherapy treatment can take up to eight hours.” By dividing the unit into three areas that each accommodates only six patients, the architects created places for family members to sit with patients during treatment. At Crozer, an undeniably stressful situation is filled with life-affirming, calming elements.
Sunny vistas, proximity to nature, and soothing materials and sounds become partners with technology in the healing process at Crozer. Daylight filters to every floor from the atrium's four-story glass wall. Upper floors overlook a rock garden and fountain. The calming sound of water can be heard throughout the building. This sense of well-being created by bright spaces and pleasant vistas is reinforced by a rich and varied palette of color and texture in the atrium. The balconies of the upper floors are faced in deep wood paneling, which complements the green slate flooring and polished granite fountain. The rough, sculpted concrete of the linear accelerators anchors the sparkling glass curtain wall and stainless-steel columns. The polished, jade-green Venetian-plaster finish of the Egg catches the sunlight and casts a warm glow over the main lobby and waiting area.
Complementing the rich architectural setting is the original art located strategically throughout the facility, including a tapestry by Ernesto Machado that enlivens the public waiting area.
By design, the Cancer Center has become the focal point of the medical campus. Its glass-and-steel façade clearly expresses the state-of-the-art treatments offered within, while its generous, open design and appeal to all of the senses creates a distinctive healing environment.
“Technology is extremely important in the delivery of high-quality care,” says Raymond J. Vivacqua, MD, medical director, “but only if it takes into account the wholeness of each person. Only by addressing a patient's emotional make-up, his or her personality, family interaction, and so many other factors do we call it ‘total care’ for the patient. That's a theme that carries all the way through our new facility.” HD