As more attention is paid to the effect of physical surroundings on the health and well-being of patients, hospitals have the opportunity to utilize the built environment in support of their mission. University Health System (UHS) wanted to extend their reach to the marginalized populations of San Antonio’s Westside, and they wanted to do it in a medical facility that affirmed patients’ dignity and contributed to their recovery.
For many underserved communities, the hospital is the primary source for healthcare. Without preventative medicine and counseling, many use the emergency room as their primary care resource. Many in these populations will spend extended time in the hospital, battling preventable diseases. Hospital staff treat a wide range of issues and must be prepared to confront not only the patient’s physical condition but their social, mental, and emotional state as well. UHS’s Robert B. Green Campus was overextended, an emergency room doing the job of an entire hospital.
When considering the target population of the new medical facility, Overland saw an opportunity. The firm has a profound appreciation for the power of art to enhance and activate a space. This commitment to art and architecture has led to partnerships across the country with renowned artists like James Turrell and others. With University Health System’s downtown campus, the firm sought to expand the symbiosis of art and architecture to the benefit of a vulnerable population struggling to regain their health.
In the site plan, the new five-story clinical service building sat along the I-10 freeway, with a long westward face full of challenge and opportunity. The opportunity was to create an attractive exterior facing out to the very community it was designed to serve. The challenge was unmitigated exposure to San Antonio’s brutal afternoon sun. Overland commissioned internationally renowned sculptor Ned Kahn to address both.
Kahn’s Feather Wall is both strikingly beautiful and functional. The 5,000 tilted aluminum vanes create a moving wall that simultaneously works as a series of louvres shading the windows from intense sun.
Bill FitzGibbons’s Colorline illuminates the top of the building with an ever-changing LED light display, creating art that cars passing on the freeway can enjoy as well. Inside, a curated collection of local contemporary art infuses the clinical space with vitality and value.
The design team approached the design with the client in mind but also the client’s clients—the patients and families who would be using the new facility. “We wanted to give hospital clients a beautiful, innovative, efficient healthcare environment that embraces the community where they live and really empowers them to a healthier, fuller life,” said Principal in Charge, Rick Archer.
The Overland team was moved by working with the doctors, seeing their passion for their work. From start to finish, their goal was to enhance the patient’s experience by minimizing wait times, maximizing contact with healthcare providers, and creating humane spaces for both waiting and treatment. The campus is now comprised of 235,000 SF of new space and 60,000 SF of renovations, which include an urgent care center, surgery suite, medical clinic, medical offices, pharmacy, dining facilities, and 500-car garage.
Sustainability, while important to the LEED Gold design, had to serve the function of the building. Overland seized key opportunities, like Kahn’s sculpture, to maximize efficiency without compromising the budget for necessary clinical space. The building now provides the ability to serve the population in a way previously impossible and has brought new life to the heart of downtown.