Resembling a children's museum much more than a pediatric hospital, the new University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital is a sight to behold. Outside, a color metal façade and color-changing LEDs attract the eye, while inside, a “Passport to Discovery” adventure beckons children on a journey throughout the themed floors and corridors to collect stamps on their passports. Highlighted by different natural habitats on each floor and animal mascots in each clinical area, the interior design strongly ties into this engaging theme.

The building itself consolidates the hospital’s pediatric and inpatient units providing access to pediatric specialists, emergency medicine, critical care, neurosurgery, trauma surgery, orthopedics, and more—all in one location. Amplatz also offers the only children’s dialysis unit in the state of Minnesota.

For a glimpse into the extensive thought, planning, and innovation that went into this $175 million facility, Barbara Horwitz-Bennett spoke with Amplatz building team members Richard L. Kobus, FAIA, FACHA, senior principal, Tsoi/Kobus & Associates (TK&A); Richard Moon, AIA, LEED AP, associate principal, TK&A; Chu Foxlin, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP, associate, TK&A; and Russ Williams, vice president, professional services, University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview and University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.


Pediatrics with a splash of color

Russ Williams: We were in a pediatric hospital within a regular hospital arrangement, with four inpatient pediatric units and another dedicated pediatric sedation unit, but otherwise, all other spaces, such as imaging and surgery, were shared, so it was a very mixed model.

The two primary impetuses to build a new building was to separate the pediatric and adult care so that everything could be dedicated to the care of children. Secondly, it was the first step of a longer campus master plan to be able to expand services and, ultimately, replace some of the buildings on campus.

Richard L. Kobus, FAIA, FACHA: I think that both we and the owner felt that because this site used to be a parking lot, it had really eroded the urban edge of the street. We quickly came to the conclusion that re-engaging the street was important. This also meant that the building would be visible from the adjacent interstate highway and from another access point—East Riverside Drive along the Mississippi River. Ultimately, we wanted to connect this new building to the city of Minneapolis.

We were also building in front of a not particularly attractive 1950s red-brick hospital and had a lot of discussions about whether we’d try and match the brick or do something more distinctive. We looked at different materials, but the particular stainless steel panels we chose are very lightweight and also have this wonderful quality of changing color, depending on the angle of light striking the surface. The panels have a playful kind of character and a magical quality to them.

Williams: We really wanted a look and a theme that was engaging for kids. When a child arrives at the building, whether it’s the colorful metal façade or the nighttime LED changing lights, he says, “Wow!” and almost forgets that he’s coming to a hospital. Hopefully, we’ve reduced some of the stress associated with hospitals.

The curtainwall is mostly transparent glass, and that’s where we placed the LED lighting so that it would showcase those areas of the building. This is another example of something that is playful and interesting.

Richard Moon, AIA, LEED AP: The patients can also personalize their rooms by controlling the lighting.

Kobus: They can even connect their iPads to the lighting system, and the tempo of the music regulates the change in lighting.


Sun-filled scene

Williams: We wanted to maximize the use of the daylighting and use as little artificial light as possible, as much as possible, so we went with a decent amount of glass.

Kobus: In fact, in some areas, the glass comes to the floor to allow small children to look out the window. In addition, the patient room ceiling tilts up toward the window head to create a larger view of the sky for children as they lie in their beds.

Moon: In terms of balancing daylighting with comfort, we looked at a system that was very efficient with a low U-value. We used fritted glass, which controls light transmission and glare, and we used a decent amount of spandrel, opaque glass wherever we didn’t need full vision glass, which really allowed us to maximize the thermal performance of the wall.


Driven to discover

Williams: For the interiors, we really wanted a design theme that was engaging to children, but not overly juvenile, as we have kids up to 18 and occasionally over. We also have a fair number of international patients, so we wanted to have something that looked familiar to kids regardless of where they are from.

Kobus: The hospital was looking for a more universal theme, and we were looking for a way of telling a story to the children and creating another level of communication with the children to distract them from their experience. We struck upon this “Passport to Discovery” idea that really started with the notion of engaging children in a discussion with the natural environment and animals (See Interior Design Notes on page 24).

Chu Foxlin, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP: I read a lot of medical research papers and talked with my father-in-law, who is a physiological professor, to best identify animals that contributed the most to medical discovery.

Foremost, we wanted to create a beautiful place. At the very same time, the university unveiled a new motto, “Driven to Discover,” so we latched onto that idea and thought it was a wonderful way to illustrate the connection to nature and the environment.

Williams: Getting into the details, every floor has its own habitat and every clinical area has its own animal mascot associated with the habitat. On each floor, a three-dimensional, cut-out, back-lit wall feature in the elevator lobby really sets off the habitat of that floor, and many of our staff have also purchased scrubs that are associated with their individual units.

Foxlin: As mentioned, each habitat has a storyteller to relate how they contributed to medical discovery, and each locale has its own distinct flower, with colorful close-up photos of flora and fauna adorning every nurses’ station. There also are intricate floor accent patterns unique to each habitat. For example, beautiful banana flowers and exquisite birds of paradise decorate the rainforest flooring, and sea anemone and coral are used on the ocean level. Even the decorative lighting fixtures pick up the theme in color or pattern. For example, in the desert habitat, the lighting fixtures feature a sand pattern.

At the same time, the educational aspect of the theme is multilayered and subtle, as we want people to appreciate the space with or without understanding the theme.

Moon: Essentially, we’ve expressed this “Passport to Discovery” theme through the wayfinding, graphics, signage, art, and interiors. At the same time, we stayed away from cartoonish implementations of the theme, but preferred something that appealed to different ages. For instance, in the lobby we have a compass inlay in the terrazzo flooring that provide
s a focal point for visitors. In addition, floor inlay “paths” direct visitors to the public elevator lobby, gift shop, and Family Resource Center.

Williams: Children are given a passport when they enter the hospital and are given stamps when they visit the different areas of the hospital, again tying into the university’s “Driven to Discover” theme as a leading research university.

Foxlin: Essentially, this environment really encourages the children to move about and discover. In addition, all the elements related to the theme throughout the floor are woven into a treasure hunt for the kids, thus alleviating the boredom of extended hospitalization.


Room layouts

Kobus: Patient room layouts, particularly where to locate the bathroom, are always the source of a lot of discussion, and it usually comes down to how much visibility nurses have from the corridor and how far they have to travel from the corridor to the room versus patient/family privacy.

We went through a very thorough analysis with the nursing and care staff about how to make those trade-offs. For intensive care, nursing convenience and safety were prioritized, whereas for the other areas, the patients and families’ comfort was prioritized.

Williams: So we went outboard with the bathrooms on the PICU to maximize visibility for the nurses, while an inboard toilet room in the medical/surgery and BMT rooms—located at the room’s entry, much like a hotel room—maximizes space for the families while allowing maximized daylighting, views, privacy, and acoustic separation from corridor noise. In addition, the patient rooms have space for two adults to sleep, a dedicated computer area, and a kitchenette.


Patron input

Williams: Another unique aspect of this project was that we were willing to put the design team together with our patients, patient advisory groups, caregivers, and care advisory groups, so we were able to gain first-hand information about what works best for them.

For example, we looked at a variety of directions for the color palettes, presented a series of palettes to the parents and children, and they ultimately chose the palette that’s in the building.

Foxlin: We gave them three palettes: bright and cheerful, muted, and somewhere in between. They ended up picking the bright-colored ones. The kids loved that palette, so we took that and developed the entire interior finish palette.

Kobus: They’re actually not primary colors, but clean, bright, clear colors.


Green design

Williams: The pediatric hospital is not a LEED-certified building, namely because we tied into our existing energy plant, but otherwise we would have most likely had enough points. We also followed the Green Guide for Health Care and probably did the most major recycling ever done in the Twin Cities. For example, we actually recycled dirt that was ultimately used to build the Minnesota Twins baseball stadium.

Foxlin: By specifying a renewable board—made from agricultural waste—in place of wood, this also ties into the discovery theme by illustrating how we work with our natural resources. Linoleum is extensively used as the floor material throughout the patient tower. And we made the hospital interiors PVC-free, which was no simple endeavor, but we did it.

In addition, we used recycled glass as colorful, terrazzo flooring in the public areas of the hospital.

Moon: Terrazzo is a good flooring surface that is durable and ages very well. It’s an older product, but has really come into modern times with the recycled material, which lends a nice sparkle to the glass floor with the use of recycled glass and mirrors.

Kobus: Another sustainable highlight is the fact that we reduced the heat island effect very substantially, as the space used to be a parking lot. The site is very landscaped, along with a roof garden, which is also a good way to manage storm water.


Construction quality

Moon: Fortunately, we had an excellent contractor, Kraus-Anderson, who really made quality a key direction on the project and we went through a lot of testing over the course of the work.

For example, we used blower door tests to measure how much air is being transmitted from one space to another. In cases where we found infiltration to be higher than specified, the contractor went back, sealed those areas, and then tested again to assure the quality of the space for the patients and client. By reducing air transmission, we were also able to reduce noise transmission, which created higher quality spaces for the patients and their families. Air transmission between rooms was especially important given the patient population being served.

We also tested roof systems, waterproofing systems, the curtainwall system, and other installed systems to create a high-quality environment.

Williams: Furthermore, we have the luxury of having an international expert on indoor air quality (IAQ) at the University of Minnesota, and he really applied some innovative approaches to ensure the best quality IAQ.

Moon: Professor Andy Streifel was a tremendous resource. He helped us with the testing and ultimately gave the building a clean bill of health.


Overcoming challenges

Williams: The appetite is always greater than the budget, but we really decided to focus on the patient rooms, allotting 390 square feet per room.

Moon: Patient care was a primary directive, which was not going to be compromised, so we ended up taking money out of other areas of the project to prioritize patient care.

Kobus: Yes, budget is always a challenge. It was a good budget, but not as generous as the team’s expectations. The team was always striving to do much more, so we were constantly looking to apply value management in a meaningful way, and I think we accomplished that.

Moon: Value management was a high priority for the design process from the beginning. Systems were looked at early in the design to identify design and construction approaches that were cost-effective and placed value on those elements that were most important to the client, the design team, and the contractor. The process started early and continued through the end of the project as decisions were made with a clear focus on cost and value.

Foxlin: In the end, the project came in under budget, which was really an accomplishment for a project of this size and complexity.

Williams: Also, because we connected to an existing building on five different floors, we had floor-to-floor height challenges, pneumatic tube connections, the issue of maintaining the fire ratings between the two buildings, and blending a 1950s infrastructure with a 2010 infrastructure.


A job well done

Williams: People are just raving about the new building. In fact, we had a child ask to have their birthday party in the building, and another one ask their mother if they were to break their leg, could they stay. I think we have done something really unique and special in creating a healing environment that isn’t scary, but is comforting.

Kobus: At the open house it was so great to hear the children speak about the building feeling magical.

Foxlin: We had some staff members who left in tears and were so grateful that we had created a space which could make their patients that much more comfortable. That was really amazing, positive feedback. HCD


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