Hospitals Reflect a Healthy New Look

Hospitals have to be one of the most complex of designs.

Beyond attempting to solve the usual physical problems of placing a highly complex structure on a site, there is the challenge of constant changes in medical technology and health-care concepts, increasing competition among hospitals and public pressure for more cost-effective facilities.

The design also must satisfy the radically different needs of the attending physicians and specialists, cadres of nurses, maintenance personnel and administrators, as well as varying patients, their concerned families and other visitors, the people who might live or work next door and a host of health, safety and building inspectors.

Finally there are aesthetic considerations. These include making a hospital appear less institutional and forbidding and, in tune with the latest medical facility trends, more serene and welcoming as, say, a hotel. It also is desirable, if not simply neighborly, for a hospital to somehow reflect local architectural traditions and blend into a community.

Effectively illustrating these design issues is the recently completed expansion of the Santa Monica Hospital Medical Center, between 15th and 16th streets just south of Wilshire Boulevard.

The new 190,000-square-foot Merle Norman Pavilion, planned and designed by the Westwood-based firm of Bobrow/Thomas & Associates, is the most recent addition in the continuing renovation and expansion of the medical center.

"We believe the design incorporates the latest in hospital-facility planning," says Michael Bobrow, who specializes in health-care projects.

The new entrance to the pavilion on 16th Street is marked by a diverting fountain and features a convenient semicircular drive up to the attractively canopied doorway.

Indeed, the feel of the entry--with vaulted skylight and a marble-tiled and carpeted lobby--is that of a moderately modish hotel. It is a welcome contrast to the hard-edged institutional tone of the original structure on 15th Street. Helping to lighten and brighten the addition are the curved bay windows hinting of San Francisco and a subtle color scheme of a soft desert tan, sandstone-accented bays and sea-foam-green detailing.

Most engaging is the use of natural light wherever possible, but particularly at the end of corridors to make them look shorter and for visitors to better orient themselves, and simply tell what time of day it is. This more than compensates for the lack of adequate graphics and walls that begged for some bright art.

Light as a major contributor to life and health, a link to nature, also is "a reassuring factor in a patient's stay," added Bobrow during a tour. He and partner Julia Thomas noted that natural light through glass-perimeter corridors and glazing also was introduced into operating rooms for the visual relief of surgeons and other staff members.

More natural light was brought into the addition by the creation of courtyards on the upper floors, which, in effect, serve as light wells.

The courtyards as well as terraces also were designed to be used for meals and breaks. It is just too bad that the clutter of aggregate stone outdoor furniture is so clumsy and uncomfortable. Needed, especially for those recovering from surgery, are cushioned chairs with back and armrests, and an easily accessible table. And more lush native plants always are appreciated.

As for the rooms, they were nicely oriented and, despite the doubles being relatively small, lend a suitable privacy. While the bay-window seats could have been a little deeper, and the chairs a little higher, the rooms are bright and comfortable, with easy access to bathrooms and a short distance to satellite nursing stations.

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