Project Summary

Planning, Programming, Architecture, Interior/Graphic Design: Karlsberger Companies

MEP Engineering: ccrd Partners

Structural Engineering: Datum Engineers, Inc.

Civil Engineering: Bury+Partners, Inc.

Landscape Architecture: TBG Partners

Sustainability Consulting: Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems

Construction Management: White Construction Company

Illustration: Computer images by Karlsberger Companies

Completion: Spring 2007

Total Project Area: 470,000 sq. ft.

Total Cost: $115,931,000

Cost/Sq. Ft.: $247

The city of Austin, Texas, had a white elephant on its hands a few years ago—or, more accurately, a potential brownfield disposal problem. A municipal airport occupying some 700 acres was no longer needed. In its place the city had master-planned a modern, upscale residential community. But it needed a commercial anchor to get it started. It so happened that one of Austin's major hospitals was looking for a site to construct a 169-bed, 470,000-sq.-ft. replacement facility. Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas was off and running. The story, which is ongoing—construction is scheduled for completion in early 2007—promises to be a model of brownfield redevelopment by a healthcare facility. In fact, designed by Karlsberger Companies, the Columbus, Ohio–based architectural firm, the project is aiming to achieve the LEED Platinum rating for green design, a rating unprecedented for healthcare. This and other modern design concepts planned for this hospital are reviewed in the plans and renderings of the following pages, supplemented by commentary from Karlsberger architect Joe Kuspan and project manager Thomas L. Snearey.

Recycling an Airport

Snearey: “After the city approached the hospital about developing this site, a lot of excitement was generated by the green design aspects of this. Austin has long been a leader in green design and, in fact, wants all the commercial buildings that will occupy this site to be LEED-certified. We began by removing and recycling some 47,000 tons of airport material, remilling the asphalt from runways for use as a parking lot base, and using the limestone foundation stone for building backfill. We also removed pollutants, such as heavy metals and jet fuel. The brownfield cleanup was worth a point in the LEED ratings.”

Keys to LEED Platinum

Snearey: “To me the two most aggressive moves toward LEED Platinum rating were in the mechanicals and in power generation. With mechanical systems, you have to achieve a prerequisite of energy efficiency to begin to qualify for points, meeting what is called the ASHRAE 90.1 standard for energy efficiency. After that you get points for bettering the minimum by fixed percentage increments. However, for the typical hospital, there is no way to earn the 52 of 69 points needed for LEED platinum; LEED is geared toward commercial buildings that power down at 5 p.m., but hospitals are operating full-throttle 24/7/365.

“Also, you can't recirculate the air in hospitals; you need more frequent air exchange for obvious health and safety reasons. The new Green Guide for Health Care has been developed to address healthcare-specific projects' needs in this area, and LEED will periodically adopt its recommendations and incorporate them in a LEED-HC program.

“At this point, platinum was a stretch for us—until Austin Energy, the local electrical power provider, came along with a proposal: If the hospital would provide the site, they would equip at their expense a gas-powered co-generator supplying electricity, steam, and chilled water to the hospital exclusively at a reasonable negotiated rate. It would take up not quite an acre of the 32-acre hospital site. This arrangement saved about $6 million in construction costs and, in essence, allowed us to justify the added expense for some green features, such as an exterior skin for the added courtyards.”

Kuspan: “These site-specific co-generation plants are cleaner to operate and up to 67% more efficient than the coal-burning stations that Austin Energy has serving the region. Part of that efficiency comes from not losing energy in the transmission of power through overhead lines at great distances. The strategy also eliminated the need for traditional emergency generators. We've used the surrounding grid to bring two feeds from two different substations to the site for backup power. The building now has three potential power sources, each capable of running the building at 100% capacity.”

The “Lungs” of the Building

Kuspan: “We've incorporated open-air gardens into the design that we call the ‘lungs’ of the building, stacked at various levels in such a way as to draw in fresh air throughout the building. Aside from the main healing courtyard that surrounds the nursing units, we have four smaller courtyards located at various patient care areas, such as rehabilitation, each with one or two levels. Each courtyard and garden was designed to represent one of seven eco-regions found within the 46-county region the new hospital will serve in Texas: coastal marshes, limestone and sandstone valleys, granite dome, sandstone plains, and the so-called Lost Maples and Lost Pines; Austin is the only area in Texas that has these particular trees. Maintaining these unique microclimates in these individual courtyards is not anticipated to be a major challenge. In addition to the environmental benefits of breaking up the mass of the building and bringing in fresh air and sunlight, these uniquely designed courtyards are also expected to be helpful in wayfinding throughout the building.”

Snearey: “This 46-county region is approximately the size of Ohio. It could be that patients from all these areas will find some bit of home here in one of those courtyards.”

The Bell Tower

Kuspan: “This 145-foot tower is modeled after a bell tower or campanile but does not contain a bell or clock, which would have been too noisy for a hospital. The tower pays homage to the Daughters of Charity, with an abstract version of the traditional nun's habit (discontinued in 1964) crowning its top. It also honors Saint Philomena, a martyred girl considered to be the patron saint of children and ‘lost causes’; the design incorporates her symbols of three arrows and an anchor. The tower will serve as an excellent wayfinding device from the interstate and provide a signature image icon for the building.”

Auditorium Courtyard

Kuspan: “This is a nice lunch and get-together/breakout area for people attending presentations in the auditorium. Shading devices are placed in this courtyard to provide respite from the summer sun.”

Private NICU Rooms

Kuspan: “The private NICU room is the culmination of 40 years of change in neonatal intensive care design. The idea now is to simulate as closely as possible the conditions of the womb with a quiet, dimly lit private space. There will be 33 such rooms, with a charting station between every two rooms. We wanted to create an intimate environment for patient and family, but with good nursing visibility and access.”

Med/Surg Patient Rooms

Kuspan: “There are two 24-bed nursing units, which share common support space. These units extend out into the Healing Garden as ‘fingers,’ providing views of the garden and the city skyline. Each 24-bed unit is organized as three pairs of four-bed clusters—or three distinct eight-bed pods or ‘communities.’ Nursing is decentralized into a station at each two rooms, and each pod has a large central working area for physicians and nurses.”

Family Information Center

Snearey: “This space provides comfortable family access to healthcare reading materials and information from the Internet. For children (both patients and siblings) there is a ‘half-pint library,’ where stories can be read and presentations and demonstrations offered.”

Kuspan: “A facility like this is all about empowering families and represents a healthcare design trend that we see in all our projects.”


Kuspan: “This is a two-story space with a design based on the famous Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France, designed by Le Corbusier, an icon of modern architecture. One edge of the chapel has two stacked public corridors passing through. The space above these corridors has light ‘tubes’ created from drywall, which allow light to penetrate into the chapel and give the impression that the wall shared with the corridor is very thick. The use of colored glass in these light tubes introduces a glow of subtle color in the space, which adds to the feeling of serenity.”

Lobby Space

Kuspan: “The entry lobby is a multistory space washed in natural light. There is a ‘bridge’ that spans open spaces below and is clad in a local species of wood, mesquite. The bridge is a metaphor to represent crossing over into a healing environment. We have also incorporated a small amphitheater where patients and families can be entertained by local artists. Austin is known as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World,’ and this space is designed to provide pleasant distraction to people occupying a stress-filled environment.”

Staff Lounge

Snearey: “At the end of each of the nursing units is a staff lounge, with 13-foot floor-to-ceiling windows and perhaps the best views in the hospital of the nearby healing garden and, from some windows, the city skyline beyond. The hospital administrators are acutely aware of today's nursing shortage. As designers, we are charged with developing spaces that will help hospitals recruit and retain the best staff available. Amenities such as this staff lounge are part of that effort.” HD