I was in a car with Hank Adams, senior vice president and director of healthcare for HDR, as we drove along a Dallas freeway, chatting about the city, the weather, the industry. That is until we reached a clearing where, suddenly, a mass appeared on the skyline.

Hank excitedly pointed it out to me: Parkland.

It’s sort of a fabled thing around the Healthcare Design office, or at least that’s how I think of the megahospital in my mind. It’s one of the first projects I became familiar with when I joined the magazine four years ago and it’s remained at the top of our editorial watch list.

And there it was—all 2.1 million square feet of it.

I was in town to emcee our Healthcare Design Academy in August and happily accepted an offer from the design team (comprised of the HDR + Corgan joint venture, with the BARA joint venture handling construction) to spend a day touring the new Parkland Memorial Hospital, a massive replacement to the original across the street that’s scheduled to open in 2015.

Seeing it in person only solidified the sheer enormity of it (did I mention 2.1 million square feet?). The project includes 862 beds, 96 NICU rooms, and a whopping 120-bay ED. With an expected minimum of 30,000 daily visits, that’s not overkill.

It’s that scale that makes the story of Parkland so compelling. Not necessarily the size itself, but the services required and conditions presented by its dense urban population. You name it, it’s there. And as Kathy Harper, vice president of clinical coordination for the new Parkland, quipped, it’s a veritable Petri dish for just about anything you might want to study.

So, as an industry, it’s hard not to watch it all unfold.

But what struck me more than anything as we made our way through the campus that day was that despite what might appear on first pass as excessive—as anything that costs a billion dollars runs the risk of doing—there was, rather, a sense of appropriateness.

For example, it’s easy to be wowed by the striking 60-foot cantilever that thrusts out from the building’s side and creates a unique architectural element that sets the new Parkland apart from its neighbors in the growing medical district where it sits. It’s stunning, yes. But it was also necessary. The cantilever was a solution to the problematic design challenge of trying to accommodate the required programming within the site.

Then there’s the cool tree graphic that glazes the building’s windows, transitioning from full foliage on one side of the building (summer) and progressing to a more barren scene on the other (winter). It’s a neat effect from the start, a nod to local flora and the campus’s overall branding/wayfinding theme. But it’s also a sun-screening device that provides heavier shading for the side of the building that will be hit hardest by the Dallas rays and less where it won’t be quite as bright. The best part? The pattern is made up of individual names of donors to the primarily public-funded project. That’s a pretty comprehensive design solution.

These types of creative approaches are noticeable throughout the building—clever but practical. There’s no over-the-top art installation, obvious wasted square footage, or impractical finishes. It’s, essentially, just what you’d expect from a public safety-net hospital, only it just happens to be the largest healthcare construction project in the country. 

I took plenty of photos during my tour, too, so be sure to check them out in the photo gallery in this blog to see how the project’s progressed.

Also, read Editor-in-Chief Kristin D. Zeit’s take on Parkland from when she toured the site in August 2013: Hard Hat Tour Of The Largest Healthcare Construction Project In The U.S.