Project Summary

Architecture: Lighthouse Architects, 527 Architects

Construction Management: McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.

MEP Engineering: C&R Mechanical Co., Guarantee Electrical Co., Grasse Services, Inc.

Landscape Architecture: SWT Associates

Photography: Debbie Franke Photography

Opened: December 2004

Total Project Area (sq. ft.): 60,000

Total Construction Cost: $20,000,000

Cost/Sq. Ft.: $333

When Laureen Tanner, CEO of Ranken Jordan Pediatric Specialty Hospital, and Steve Hunsicker, principal of 527 Architects, stood smack-dab in the middle of the property where the hospital would one day sit, grasshoppers jumping about their feet, Hunsicker turned to Tanner and asked what kind of architecture she liked.

“I didn't know,” Tanner recalls. “I told him that I just wanted the hospital to be ‘wicked cool.’”

Most will say “mission accomplished” when they see the new 60,000-square-foot facility, the only specialty pediatric rehabilitation hospital in Missouri and one of only five of its kind in the country. Among other things, it features a 10,000-square-foot play area to promote playing, exploring, congregating, and getting well—unknowingly.

“Ranken Jordan is all about getting kids out of bed every day,” says Hunsicker. “We wanted to create a lot of opportunities for kids to stretch themselves out, get inspired, and get their minds engaged and curious.”

Once recognized as a nursing home, Ranken Jordan received its hospital licensure in July 2002. This allowed and recognized the actual care at Ranken Jordan, as well as providing a higher reimbursement rate that more closely meets the daily patient costs. With skyrocketing costs and a need for technologically advanced equipment and more room to provide therapy for patients, the decision was made to build a new facility. What follows is a guided tour by Hunsicker.

“The kitchen became a part of the design based on feedback from staff and children through the overall design process. The process unveiled the true ‘hearth’ that would help make the hospital a home away from home—the kitchen. This room is the focal point of most homes, and we needed an occupational therapy kitchen, anyway. We also knew it could be a fun design element. We decided to put it right next to the adolescent lounge. The staff makes food there, and the kids participate in the cooking process. They can also watch TV while they're eating, just like at home. It's one of the most used spaces in the whole facility outside the nursing area. The counters are low so that kids in wheelchairs can pull up to them and use them to do artwork or eat or whatever they want to do.

“Exposing the ductwork was intentional. Putting a finished ceiling in would have covered up all of the interesting components, eliminating the potential for learning and the curiosity the overhead mechanical components would provide. We wanted to let people see what the building was made of.

“Almost everything we did in the building was centered around the idea that someone could learn from it or be intrigued by it. If you take a trip to a new city, you feel very small, a nobody in a strange place. In building this hospital, I felt kids might experience a similar feeling in this large-scale space and begin to contemplate their lives beyond being patients in a hospital. I thought this would generate hope and motivation to work toward a life in which patients' own health is not a limitation and their physical abilities are the lesser part of their personal identity.”

“We put a porte cochere out front because the Americans With Disabilities Act requires it. We knew we had to do it, but we also knew we had a pretty unique building and didn't know how to attach it. The concept envisioned was a wavy, flag-like element that was very light and had movement to it. In order to construct this design element and still provide a lighter, whimsical feel with quite a bit of steel, we rolled custom steel shapes for the trusses that support it. It came off as a less heavy, lighter area yet still allowed us to retain the original concept.”

“The 10,000-square-foot play area's focal point is in the center of the hospital, but it extends throughout the hospital in what we call ‘in-between spaces,’ areas that offer an array of ‘temptations' that can be found through a patient's own discovery. This didn't take away from the spaces we were building; in fact, it enhanced them.

“We've all seen the old hospital designs with cross-shaped floor plans, but we wanted to expand and broaden our hallways. In other hospitals, we found that hallways were where children who felt up to leaving their rooms would play. So we made the hallways fun spaces so they would be entertained when moving from place to place.

“Because many of Ranken Jordan's patients have respiratory ailments and the outside can be a dangerous place for them, we wanted to create the ‘outside’ indoors and expose the kids to the qualities of the outdoors as far as we could take that concept. For instance, we have a basketball hoop setup and ‘cozy coupes’ that 2-year-olds can hop in and drive, drive, drive.

“The other thing we wanted to do was reduce clutter. In most physical therapy gyms, hundreds of devices are thrown in the corner taking up space. We took away the need for a storage area by building those devices into the architecture. For instance, we have a series of stairs, parallel bars, handrails for walking, etc., all built into the structure.”

“We built a bridge that connected the monumental stairs with the second floor. If I were a kid seeing that, it would be the first thing I'd go to. But you have to climb 25 stairs to get there, so it takes some work. Kids' desire to explore someplace they haven't been before is enough to make them want to get out of their wheelchairs. They learn a lot about themselves and gain a sense of accomplishment when they decide it would be worth the pain to go up those stairs.

“I was standing on the bridge once and witnessed a child in a wheelchair in front of the aquarium coming out of a coma. It's hard to say whether this occurred because he was in an environment with 100 different stimuli or for another reason, but it was exciting to think that maybe this concept of getting children out of their rooms and moving or being moved around was working.” HD