Serving those who serve
In August 2002, the Naval Hospital Bremerton, near Seattle, opened its new three-story outpatient clinical wing and, simultaneously, moved the hospital both forward and backward in time. The new wing moved it forward by helping Bremerton evolve from just another military hospital installation into one of original and distinctive design. It also moved the Bremerton facility back, with a recognitionin glass, stone, steel, and woodof United States Navy history and tradition. This all came about through a long-running collaboration between the Navy and the Seattle-based design firm NBBJ.
Recently NBBJ designers Richard Dallam, AIA, partner, and Charles Kolb, principal, explained how the Bremerton addition grew from concept to drawing board to final launch.
Would you describe how the first thing one notices about this project, its striking all-glass entryway, was conceptualized?
Dallam: The hospital's original entry, called the Quarterdeck, was located on the downhill side of the building, taking advantage of the proximity to Ostrich Bay and the setting's spectacular waterfront views. The hospital clinic's entry, by contrast, opened to the building's forested, uphill side and offered an experience of Pacific Northwest woodlands. According to the Navy's master plan, it was assumed that additional clinical space would be added to the hospital's forested side, but this would have had three undesirable effects: eroding the Quarterdeck's importance as the main entry, because of the greater volume of visitors using the clinical entry; cutting into the hillside and damaging the wooded area's natural beauty; and underutilizing views of the bay and, along with it, a sense of the Navy's connection to water.
During one of our earliest work sessions with the Navy, we challenged the master plan and looked into how we could take better advantage of the site. We explained that if we were allowed to reorient the entry toward the water, we could design a project that was both more efficient and more intrinsically meaningful. We could create a three-story Quarterdeck that resembled the flying bridge of a Navy ship and opened to views of the bay, while at the same time burying the parking underground in the slope, making parking more convenient, and saving much of the site above ground for future development. Also, this new arrangement would afford the hospital a more fluent connection between inpatient and outpatient uses.
Kolb: Entry to the clinic building, as Rich mentioned, was from the uphill side of the site near the parking. Now we bring visitors to the new and existing buildings through the waterfront entry, which is a win for everyone.
Dallam: Also, the old building had heavily tinted glass and virtually no openings to the outside so, once inside, you never quite knew where you were. Now, with a three-story glass entry, almost everyone inside is oriented to this view.
Kolb: When it is illuminated at night, it's a welcoming beacon.
What did it take to persuade the Navy to change its master plan and adopt this design?
Dallam: Right from the start we were engaged with them to get their ideas about what they wanted this project to mean. In general, as Chuck noted, they wanted us to create an environment of respect for those who serve their country and devote their lives to this end.
Kolb: Our firm has a policy to involve everyone from the very beginning who might have a say in the design. As it turned out with this project, the changes in the master plan were generated by the Navy personnel themselves. This design is very much theirs.
Dallam: During the design process, we had to go through various approvals at the Department of Defense, and then have it budgeted and approved by Congress. The process worked very well all the way through, and a large reason is that we engaged the Navy collaboratively from the start.
Kolb: One piece of advice that we would offer is that you should never underestimate your client. The Navy supported this design throughout the construction phase, and when decisions had to be made at various times that might have involved a little extra money, they continued to support it.
What were some of the considerations involved in implementing the glass design?
Kolb: Designing and composing the structure so that it would be pleasing from inside and out, we realized that the result was much as one sees the exposed structure of a ship from inside.
Dallam: We also live in a relatively benign climate, unlike, say, Phoenix, Arizona, where an all-glass entryway is not something you'd want to do. One of the benefits of modern glass technology is that it lets in the visible light spectrum while minimizing heat loss and heat gain.
What went into creating the “ceremonial space” at the Quarterdeck?
Dallam: We wanted to reinforce Navy traditions here. As with any quarterdeck, this would be a place to celebrate retirements, reassignments, and promotionsthere is at least one ceremony a week. A ceremonial bell is used, and people in various areas of the hospital can hear it ring and be reminded of shipboard life. There's also a place to display Navy communications flags, and we used an abstracted flag pattern in the wood deck to relate to other parts of the building and help with orientation.
Basically, we wanted to allude to Navy traditions without copying them literally. For example, the wood deck and the exposed steel refer to the structure of Navy vessels; the lighting scheme alludes to running lights on ships; and, as you overlook the deck and take in views of Ostrich Bay, you're standing in an area that calls to mind the flying bridge on a ship.
Kolb: Also suggesting the naval motif, we have used sails in the interior that are constructed by Koryn Rolstad (see The Art Corner, page 80), which are used as room dividers, light diffusers, and wayfinding aids.
What are some other special areas of the facility?
Dallam: On the first floor there is a patient resource center that gives people a variety of ways to find out about healthcare. On each floor, waiting areas are made up of various-sized bays with a mixture of seating arrangements, to allow people to “pick their views” of Ostrich Bay. Attached to the building is a pavilion designed to be a staff respite area, surrounded by woods and with plenty of areas in which to relax, have a snack, and generally recharge.
In designing this hospital, we knew we wanted a facility that works for patients and families, but we also wanted one that works for staff, who often get overlooked in the design process. HD