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Natural elements transform facility's first impression

June 10, 2015
by Julia Brown
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Rogers Memorial Hospital—Brown Deer, Wisconsin
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For nearly 10 years, Rogers Memorial Hospital has offered child and adolescent day treatment in the Brown Deer, Wis. community, but at its former capacity, the facility was unable to meet growing needs in the underserved area. This need—combined with an opportunity to acquire additional space where Rogers’ outpatient treatment programs already existed—sparked a two-year project that resulted in a newly renovated, 56-bed inpatient facility.

With its grand opening in April, the hospital now provides inpatient care and stabilization for children and adolescents as well as adults dealing with anxiety, depression, addiction and dual diagnoses. Along with the Rogers’ intensive outpatient/partial hospitalization facility that was moved to its new home across the street, the two 55,000-square-foot buildings collectively make up the third comprehensive behavioral health campus in the Rogers Behavioral Health System.

One of the early design challenges, according to John Curran, ALA, principle in charge, TWP Architecture, was to make the acquired space, which was formerly a psychiatric hospital, more inviting.

“It had a very ominous look with black-tinted, punched windows set into masonry wall—not very welcoming,” he says, adding that it had almost a prisonlike quality.

The facility required some much-needed upgrades to comply with current codes and standards as well as aesthetic renovations that would align it with design standards set at other Rogers locations. The design team focused primarily on the building’s interior spaces, with a heavy emphasis on creating a new lobby space that would be warm, welcoming and give a good first impression.

“We addressed this by enclosing a large portion of the structure’s exterior canopy at the entry point,” Curran says. “Substantial openings that we glassed to create skylights provide a continuous stream of natural light to the newly developed lobby.”

Several other design elements were purposely concentrated up front to make the lobby as hospitable as possible, including warm lighting and a fireplace. But most striking is the 30 foot by 12 foot, vertical live wall that features hundreds of plants and a built-in irrigation system.

“It’s like being outdoors,” says Roger Luhn, MD, medical director for Rogers Brown Deer. “The welcoming, organic, non-institutional entryway and concept that carries throughout the facility is really integral to our mission.”

Natural lighting, natural elements
Wanting to bring as much natural light and natural elements into the facility as possible, the design team used Rogers’ main hospital in Oconomowoc and its lake- and tree-filled campus for inspiration.

“We really wanted to bring some of those elements into this building that had none of that,” says Abbie Sivwright, architect, TWP.

The building’s standard, institutional-sized windows were replaced by large, full-wall windows that allow patient, public and treatment spaces all to be light-filled and for the outdoors to be visually accessible.  

“That accessibility makes a huge difference. It’s conducive to good treatment and progression toward wellness, and it’s what people expect more and more from a mental health environment,” says Luhn. “We know that daylight and mental health can go together; there’s a reason why, traditionally, people who have depression talk about their illness in terms if dark and light.”

Other prominent design elements throughout the facility include natural wood—most notably in floor-to-ceiling day room and living room spaces—and cool, calming colors. Luhn describes the blue and green color palette as unifying and soothing but also visually interesting. For example, the carpeting that runs along the live wall in the lobby features a bright blue curvature adjacent to shades of tan and is made of recycled fishnets from the ocean that it was intended to mimic. This theme of water was carried through the patient wings as well, says designer Heather Olver, interior designer, TWP, especially in small focal points along the hallways that have bold, blue accents and graphics of lakes and oceans.

Divided into two, 28-bed bifurcated wings—one for adults, one for children and adolescents—each sub-wing was given a secure, fence-enclosed outdoor patio in the redesign.

“So not only do we bring the outdoors in with the design elements, we also take our patients out which is really key,” says Luhn. “Ultimately, in the next phase, there will be use of the green space between those outdoor areas for therapeutic gardens.”

Although Curran says that he would’ve liked to have done more to the outside of the facility, the interior had to be a focus in order to bring the space up to code and create the desired atmosphere.

“When renovating, you want to have high-impact areas to focus on in terms of where your money is going into a project,” he says.

Sight lines, secured access, and ligature resistant solutions were all incorporated throughout the building in order to make the facility more safe and secure, but what was challenging, Curran says, was doing so without the space looking too institutional.

While there will always be challenges and budget constraints when renovating an existing building, he recommends that industry members considering similar projects evaluate existing elements in a space so quality materials and features can be reused, recycled and saved. In other words, run with what a building can give you in terms of unique qualities and then try to enhance them.

“To me it’s more rewarding than working with new construction,” he says. “Sometimes you wind up with unusual conditions that give you a lot of chances for creativity that you might not have had.”