University of Chicago Medicine Opens Sky-High Center

CHICAGO — Last month, the 10-story 1.2 million-square-foot Center for Care and Discovery at the University of Chicago Medicine opened for patient use. The building was designed to consolidate the university’s more advanced medical facilities into one location, as well as to incorporate goals of flexibility in the future.

“Technology and mobility of health care is only going to change and evolve over time, so [the design] was created to adapt to such changes as well as accommodate those features in the building,” said Chan Li, partner, project director for New York-based Rafael Vinoly Architects, which served as the architect on the project.

Cannon Design was the consulting architect/medical facilities planner on the project, Affiliated Engineers Inc. and Primera Engineers Ltd. were the MEP/FP engineers and Thornton Tomasetti was the structural engineer. All four have locations in Chicago.

At first, when the university issued an RFP for a new hospital, the aim was to expand an existing facility. After design discussions, however, Rafael Vinoly Architects proposed the facility’s new design, which occupies the given site but also bridges across Maryland Avenue to a site to the west. This not only allows the hospital to consolidate the medical practices in one place, but it also achieves the hospital’s goal of maximum efficiency because the contiguous floors make it so staff don’t have to travel between levels of the building.

A major design factor was incorporating this larger facility into the overall look of the University of Chicago Campus. The university has a historic campus setting, which features a connection between the buildings and open green spaces; however, the medical center required a much bigger floor plan, making it difficult to use premium land for green spaces. This made an interior courtyard not possible in the design.

Instead, the design team created a Sky Lobby on the seventh floor of the building, which served as a new version of public space, housing reception, family waiting areas, a chapel, a business center, cafeteria and other public spaces. The traditional lobby is elevated, offering expansive views of the university, Washington Park, Lake Michigan and the downtown Chicago skyline.

“What Rafael [Vinoly] tried to do was think about the public space as a new public space defined in sections between different parts of the building that are stacked vertically by leaving one floor open that’s not occupied by clinical functions, “ Li said. “It becomes a hole in the middle of the building where family members are able to get away without going home. They’re still in the hospital but away from being in the health care environment all the time.”

Other design priorities were privacy in patient rooms, as well as enhancing visual connectivity between patients and nurses. The facility’s 240 patient rooms are each private and can comfortably accommodate multiple family members. On the patient room levels, waiting areas and nursing stations are accessible from the main elevators, and individual family waiting lounges also provide space for visitors.

The Center for Care and Discovery focuses on patient-centered experience and wants to use the latest technologies to help improve health care. The flexibility of the modular design helps achieve the needs to evolve with advances in surgical, imaging and therapeutic technologies that will help in treating complex illnesses, multi-organ transplants, robotic surgeries, cancer treatments and gastrointestinal diseases.