Photography: Jim Roof Creative
Located within the nation's largest reclaimed greenfield, Piedmont Physicians Group is at the heart of Atlanta's Atlantic Station restoration project. Once a polluted steel-mill site, the district is now a thriving downtown community, one that demanded a different sort of healthcare facility. With simple and sophisticated lines, materials, colors, lighting, and artwork, a subtle, modern look was achieved; the perfect site for a youthful metropolitan customer base. HEALTHCARE DESIGN Managing Editor Todd Hutlock spoke with Stanley, Beaman & Sears Principal Kimberly Stanley and Sheila Jordan, Practice Manager of Piedmont Physicians Group about the project's unique aesthetics.
Kimberly Stanley: Atlanta is a very busy, fast-paced city; there is a high energy level everywhere you go downtown. We designed a quiet, high-end looking environment for a younger population that is on the go.
From our perspective, we were trying to achieve, first and foremost, a space that was decidedly nonclinical in appearance. Places people choose to visit when they're well—like an art gallery or a fine restaurant—can be good aesthetic reminders for healthcare design; after all, these are places that speak to a person's broader life. We wanted patients to arrive at this medical practice and have that same kind of feeling: “I am more than just a patient.”
The physicians group wanted the office design to be very evocative of wellness, something that would appeal to the young professional population that was moving into that area. From a functional standpoint, they wanted to eliminate the clutter that is ubiquitous in many MD offices, integrating their electronic medical record and exam room computer workstations. The result is a very clean, crisp, quiet aesthetic.
Stanley: Historically, the lighting levels are awful in doctor's offices. Excessive fluorescent lighting is often used in waiting rooms, offices and exam rooms with equal intensity, and the overall experience is frequently described by patients as “cold,” physically and psychologically. We wanted to reinvent that whole experience, so we paid a lot of attention to richer, warmer materials—the floor finishes, wall finishes, the quality of the lighting, natural materials, and artwork.
There was a lot of attention paid to the exam rooms and the corridors in which the physicians are working. They typically move from room to room, sometimes keeping patients in three exam rooms at once, so an efficient work flow is key. We learned about their working style, and organized the space to help facilitate that. We also designed a place for all the medical devices so they could disappear from the visual foreground, which really helped achieve a more streamlined appearance everywhere – but particularly in the exam rooms.
It took a little extra effort, but I think the payoff was huge. We really believe that design can have a positive impact on the delivery of care, and by collaborating with the physicians and staff in the planning stages, we think we've been able to achieve that goal.
We looked at how much lighting is really needed to examine a patient, which is a lot in terms of footcandles. But we also looked at fixtures that wouldn't be staring patients in the face on the exam table, but would still give physicians enough light to provide a good exam.
Stanley: We wanted to make sure that we selected the artwork to achieve a more unified aesthetic. We also gave some thought to the likely patient population that would be coming to this practice, which is predominantly a young to middle-aged professional living in Atlantic Station. We felt that this group would accept more contemporary artwork with some level of abstraction. We strategically placed artwork, as well, making sure that when you turn a corner, there is a piece of art to serve as a visual resting spot. I believe that art should play a bigger role in healthcare interiors in particular. It's a way to further humanize an environment that can sometimes challenge our individuality and dignity.
As patients, we have become accustomed to the ugliness of many healthcare facilities, and we accept it as if it were inevitable. This design team decided that they would focus on every detail, from the magazine holder to a specific coat hook or soap dispenser, so a new approach to healthcare environments is revealed. Our goal now is to be able to take the concepts we explored on this project and apply them to larger and larger healthcare projects. Healthcare can be life-affirming, and we should strive to make it that way.
Stanley: Healthcare is rapidly moving to a paperless environment, yet you still see paper taped up everywhere in medical environments. There's a clutter that makes you question the professionalism, organization, or progressive nature of the place, giving you a sense of unease. We wanted the new design to provide a reinforcement that these physicians are on the cutting edge of medicine. If it is a paperless office, there's no need for clutter. We designed around the idea that this is a modern practice and this is modern medicine.
Also, the daylight provided to the waiting spaces was carefully controlled. We weren't trying to get a lot of natural light to flood the space necessarily; we were trying to control the lighting. There was limited opportunity to get a lot of natural light into the interiors, but I think we were able to create the desired mood through some of the incandescent fixtures.
Sheila Jordan: The staff here is just thrilled to have such a beautiful place to come to work every day. Our patients are in “awe” of our practice. They tell us all the time that they don't see how we would want to ever leave the office because it is so beautiful!
Stanley: As consumers are given a wider array of choices on where and from whom to receive care, I think they are going to gravitate toward places that make them feel well. Obviously the quality of the medical care is still the major driver, but patients are being drawn based on the quality of the environment more and more. This has been slow to creep into general practices, but this particular client had a vision of what kind of environment they wanted to work and deliver care in, and they were very specific about it. The dialogue between our designers and the physicians resulted in an uncommonly positive space to give and to receive care.
Jordan: Our working relationship with Stanley Beaman & Sears was hands-down a very pleasant experience. They were always mindful of the wants and needs of the physicians here and were most accommodating to our needs.
Stanley: Great projects large and small require great clients. Oftentimes in the busyness of the healthcare industry, clients want designers to focus on detail, but they don't always have the time to focus on it with you. This client understood the importance of it and invested the time required, helping to insure a positive outcome. It is very satisfying to work with clients who recognize that design can be one of their best forms of advertising, while at the same time, positively influence the patient experience. HD