We received the commission to design the phased expansion of St. Francis Hospital & Health Center in 2001. The project was completed in August of 2003 and involved 55,000 square feet of new construction and more than 46,000 square feet of renovation. Programmatic components included a new Emergency Department, a Women's Center, Preadmission Testing, a Gift Shop, a new Chapel, Diagnostic Cardiology, Endoscopy, Surgery, and Executive Offices.

Perhaps the most critical design issue we faced involved the incorporation of religious elements into the design, in such a way that would not alienate the diverse community the hospital serves. It was important to the client that the building reflect its religious origins, but we needed to address this with forms that would allude to, but not directly copy, those found in places of worship. Our solution involved the design of tall windows with an abstract pattern that evoked stained glass. Pieces of the original chapel's stained-glass windows were used, creating a more immediate link with the facility's past. Within the new chapel, we implemented a recessed circular ceiling symbolizing the cyclical pattern of life. Throughout the new building, neutral tones and soft lighting contribute to a welcoming space.

Another important image issue concerned security in the Emergency Department. In the existing facility, a visitor's first visual impression of the ED was that of a security guard stationed behind a podium. Although security is integral to the department, we wanted to diminish its institutional appearance. By placing the guard behind a reception desk that visitors see upon entering the ER, we retained security's strong presence but gave it a more accommodating role. Within the department, our use of light colors and wood give the area a brighter look.

Project category: New construction & Remodel/Renovation (completed August 2003)

Chief administrator: Colleen Kannaday, President, (708) 597-2000

Firm: Pratt Design Studio, Ltd., (773) 755-2000

Design team: Robert Pratt, Design Principal (Pratt Design Studio, Ltd.); Paul VanDuyne, Vice-President (KJWW Engineering Consultants, PC); Mike Doiel, Senior Vice-President (HDR Architecture, Inc.); David Connolly, Senior Project Executive (Hammes Company); Douglas Hills, Landscape Architect (Douglas Hills Assoc., Inc.)

Photography: © James Steinkamp, Steinkamp/Ballogg Photography, Chicago

Total building area (sq. ft.): 55,000 (new); 46,000+ (renovation)

Construction cost/sq. ft.: Not released

Total cost (excluding land): Not released

The ED construction presented a phasing issue, since it needed to remain operational during its expansion. We solved this problem by building the new structure behind the existing Emergency Department. Once it was ready to be occupied, we diverted visitors to the new space and began work on the existing department. Once this second phase was completed, the entire ED was available for occupancy.

The entire St. Francis project addresses a much larger issue than simply updating a busy hospital. The hospital is a crucial part of the Blue Island community, not only in terms of its service as a care provider but also as a principal area employer. This design was the keystone of a vast campaign for improving the image of the city itself. The new building represents renewal at two levels: St. Francis presents itself as a modern healthcare provider through its updated design and, just as importantly, the new building serves as a first step in Blue Island's civic endeavors.