When we design a building, especially one that involves health, we design it to respect and reflect the spirit of its place and the people who inhabit it. We believe that the environment can contribute to healing when people have a sense of comfort and familiarity when they walk in the door.

Hawley Peterson Snyder had the opportunity to apply this philosophy when Richmond Health Center, a heavily used, 50-year-old county health center located in Richmond,Calif., was slated for replacement. Thanks to a $12 million federal grant to jumpstart the process, construction of a new building became possible.

At first glance, it was clear that the last 50 years had taken their toll on materials that were designed to last less than half that time. In addition, healthcare procedures and workflow had evolved considerably, and the spatial layout didn’t support current practice.

Even with these challenges, the unique artwork that covered the walls filled the aged building with undeniable energy and a sense of identity. The artwork had been created by local artists and users through an organization called ArtsChange, and the topics of the pieces had deep meaning to the community.

It was apparent that art, integrated with the architecture, would be one of the elements that brought the building full circle, embracing the spirit of the community. Subjects portrayed in the art also helped to open the dialogue in our visioning process.


Ask and listen       
In our group visioning sessions for the new facility, renamed West County Health Center, we asked the questions, “What should your facility reflect?” and “What makes your community proud?”

And what we heard was, “We’re proud of the resilience and hopefulness of this community in the midst of its challenges” (including recent immigration and assimilation, living with at-risk behaviors, and multiple definitions of family) and “the things that make this possible are family, a sense of home, culture, and diversity.”

Through this process, a design vision was developed: “Under One Roof/Home to Your Health.” The symbolism of the roof refers to the breadth of services provided in one place, making it easier for the community to access total care. The actual roof of the building is a prominent feature of the design, spanning the front entry and circulation to signify shelter and safety. The use of terra cotta roof tiles provides a cultural/historical link to the Mission style in the adjacent vicinity.

The new health center is also more than a building. People often know their providers by first name, and relationships have been formed and continue to grow through generations. For many, it’s an extension of home. The reference to “home” also relates to the medical home health delivery concept, providing whole-person care.

Having a clear vision statement has been helpful in ensuring a cohesive story throughout the building, creating a common language among diverse team members and providing a component to the marketing effort.


Building the idea
The essence of the vision statement is captured through form and architectural elements, color, pattern, finish materials, artwork, lighting, furnishings, and use of views and daylight. Following are examples of how “Under One Roof” was incorporated into the design.

Sheltering roof/public porch: We explored various forms and shapes the roof could take, all providing a sense of shelter and strength. The broad, overhanging roof created a large public porch to our home and “places in between”: seating areas and places to socialize, as well as performance and exhibit space for art, dance, music, and storytelling.

Form/architectural elements: The front wall of the registration area is like the front of a house, with its illuminated porch lights and clinic entryways. Low curving walls create clear boundaries between waiting/registration and main circulation, and give visual cues for queuing at check-in areas.

Wayfinding: Color, materials, pattern, artwork, and signage all work together for wayfinding. Artwork is integrated into the architecture, bringing focus to key areas such as registration and clinic entries. To aid in wayfinding, each check-in area has its own unique artwork and focal color.

Identifying colors at check-in areas are carried through to the clinic, which helps guide the patient back to the waiting area at the end of the visit. Art pieces also help with directions, creating memorable elements at key points. Signage is easy to understand, offering multiple strategies for communication with color, shape, words, and numbers.

The “Home to Your Health” vision was incorporated in a number of ways, as well. Some examples:

Our medical home: The medical home care model is supported by planning concepts. Due to the dynamic nature of this clinic, flexibility, consistency, and teamwork are imperative to provide patients with the highest level of care. Clinics and physicians on the second floor rotate in and out twice a day, so the physicians don’t have dedicated exam rooms or clinical space. To create continuity of care, exam rooms are same-handed and the clinics are all laid out similarly.

The central work area provides the ability for all members of the care team to work together in the same space, making it easier to fully coordinate a patient’s care plan. Social workers also have offices in the clinic, so they, too, can coordinate with other members of the team as well as meet with patients and family directly before or after their medical appointments. This fosters closer interaction with providers, social workers, nutritionists, and other members of the care team, with emphasis on treating the whole person.

Color/pattern/materials: Colors and patterns have been inspired by diverse cultures in the area, reflecting the rich and ethnically diverse population but also recognizing that that population will be constantly evolving. Color is also inspired by local art, such as the dynamic and vibrant graffiti-like art wrapping the Richmond RYSE Center, a youth arts facility located across from the original Richmond Health Center.

The center is heavily used by families and patients of all ages. A rigorous selection process was used for materials, considering dozens of performance criteria in coordination with the medical center’s facilities maintenance department. Materials have a variety of textures, while being durable and easy to care for.

Artwork: Culture, diversity, and resilience are further expressed through artwork that’s integrated into the interior architecture, updating such traditions as the use of murals in community spaces.

Registration areas are highlighted by 20-by-7-foot curved, backlit art panels above each desk.

The vibrant panel images created by artist Marion Coleman are scaled representations of her collection of health-themed quilts.

Continuity with the past is important in creating a sense of familiarity and comfort. This is provided by artwork that was featured prominently in the former facility over the past 15 years, created by the local arts collective and the surrounding community. Plans are being made to bring artwork over to the new building. In order to further connect with the community and reflect the current dynamics, future rotating and permanent art exhibits may be coordinated.


Realizing the vision
The design of West County Health Center strives to capture in built form the essence of home: safety
and shelter, comfort and caring. That sense of home, in concert with a generous connection with the outdoors; simple, intuitive wayfinding; and an uplifting, inspiring connection with local art, all make the new health center a special place of healing for this community.  

Denise Tom-Sera, IIDA, LEED AP BD+C, EDAC, is senior interior designer/associate at Hawley Peterson Snyder. She can be reached at dtomsera@hpsarch.com.