Project Summary

Client: Gaston Memorial Hospital

Architecture: KMD (Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz, Inc.)

General Contractor: Bovis Lend Lease

Civil Engineering/Landscape Architecture: ColeJenest & Stone

Structural Engineering: ABKJ

MEP Engineering: PWI Consulting Engineering, Inc.

Interior Design: Dawson Design Associates, Inc.

Photography: Tim Griffith

Opened: August 2004

Total Building Area (sq. ft.): 484,000

Total Cost: $66 million

Cost/Sq. Ft.: $136

Can there be a more joyous moment for a family than the birth of a child? Most would say no—and yet these moments, when they occur in hospitals, frequently take place among masked and gowned staff and utilitarian equipment in sparsely furnished patient rooms, delivery rooms with cold walls, and crowded, uncomfortable, featureless waiting rooms. As most families will attest, a new baby's arrival overcomes these environmental shortfalls. But more and more people are asking if it has to be this way.

About 10 years ago, Gaston Memorial Hospital decided that it does not. The hospital wanted to create a birthing center where the corridors, waiting areas, delivery suites, and even the NICU emphasized the personal nature of the blessed event. It recruited the San Francisco architectural firm KMD (Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz, Inc.) to bring its research orientation to bear on creating the new unit—one that would become the largest single-floor birthing center in the United States. The innovative results of their efforts opened last fall. What follows is a guided tour by Alexander Wu, KMD's director of strategic planning.

“We based the underlying concept of The Birthplace on 40 years of research on how emotions relate to space. One result of this is what we call the healthcare village concept. The healthcare village is a place of warmth and light, with a Main Street running through it and connecting various neighborhoods where families can gather in intimate spaces. There is plenty of natural light shining through skylights and large windows, a diverting and restful water feature, and several outdoor areas with tables and chairs where people can rest and snack. Near the waiting areas are media rooms and libraries where families can find educational materials about the birthing process and children can read and draw. The idea behind The Birthplace was to provide a sense of place. This, in itself, contributes to a healing environment.”

“Perhaps the most innovative feature of this design is the NICU. It is divided into 16 single-occupancy areas. In the typical NICU, with as many as 15 to 20 infants in the room, if something goes wrong, it can traumatically affect every infant in the unit. The single room offers privacy and allows parents and families to visit comfortably and quietly. Research has shown that family involvement, as well as the individually controlled lighting and temperature available in these areas, have a positive effect on the baby's health. From an administrative standpoint, all 16 of the NICU rooms are lined up together and easily monitored by a central nursing unit.

“We've worked to modernize the concept of the single-room maternity suite, giving it the appearance and amenities of a luxury hotel suite. Each of the 52 maternity care suites has a foldout couch, a refrigerator, a whirlpool bath, and access to the Internet, DVDs, and CDs. We know that patients and family members might well spend a considerable amount of time in the suite, and it should be as pleasant and comfortable as possible. Technically, these rooms are designed to accommodate virtually any procedure, but delivery rooms are, of course, available for more difficult deliveries.”

“The building was built into a steep slope atop a three-story underground parking structure, an architectural challenge in itself. The location and structure of the garage allow for easy access to the hospital, which consists of two wings connected by a double-height atrium.”

“At the end of the day, we were proud that so many of the special design features—the waterwall, the skylights, the widely available daylighting—were retained and not value-engineered out. I think a key factor in this was that the design process was thorough and started back in the 1990s. Gaston's leadership saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a special birthing center, and they took full advantage of it.” HD