Over the past two decades, hotels have commissioned sybaritic spas and wellness centers while investing heavily in well-appointed bathrooms and costly bed linens to pamper their female guests. But when women are sick, the choices are limited. “The healthcare industry still doesn’t understand how great an impact environmental design has on a person’s emotional wellbeing, and its value in attracting patients and building up a brand,” says Pamela Maynard, design principal of HMC Architects in Ontario, California. She speaks from personal experience and her 30 years of designing healthcare facilities. With that body of experience, Maynard earned the commission to design the Los Angeles Center for Women’s Health, a model facility on the downtown campus of California Hospital Medical Center.
Fortunately, the clients included Ari Babaknia, M.D., a Johns Hopkins–trained women’s health specialist whose insight into women’s medical issues was valuable to the project’s design. “This is an idea whose time has come,” Babaknia declares, “a comfortable inviting space where busy professional women can satisfy many of their medical needs under one roof.” He recounts an experience: “A patient said to me, ‘I’m sick and tired of putting different parts of my body in different parts of town.’” Babaknia invited specialists in gynecology, cardiology, urology, and oncology to join him in a group practice that’s located in a 17,000-square-foot space at the top of a four-story office building.
By the experts, for the ladies
Further emphasizing female empowerment, Maynard worked with a team of women on the design. When the project was almost complete, the design team shared renderings with focus groups. “We asked them if this was a facility they would leave their existing doctor to come to and we got a very positive response,” she recalls.
For the patient experience, Babaknia told the designer the concept he had in mind: An aspect of the Disney theme park experience wherein guests and staff enter separately but then staff magically appears to guests when needed. That idea was incorporated into the complex of examination and procedure rooms, ameliorating an often-fraught experience for many of the patients, and streamlining communications for the staff. Babaknia assembled a team of renowned surgeons to weigh in on layout preferences; they arrived at the first meeting with a floor plan they had drawn themselves. In what Maynard considered a very forward-looking move, they chose to forgo individual offices in favor of a shared workroom.
Soothing and reassuring patients
“We wanted people to walk in and feel hugged by the space,” says Maynard, aiming to create a setting that would soothe and reassure patients, while still conveying precision and expertise they desire in a medical facility. The experience begins as one steps out of the elevator and emerges into the spacious waiting area, which possesses the character of an upscale spa. The dove-gray carpet, blonde wood paneling, and Venetian plaster are softly lit, and elegant swivel chairs add accents of blue and gold. Babaknia suggested rounded edges for all the furniture and millwork to create a sense of flow. Watercolors by architect Mayee Futterman—stylized studies of plant life—were enlarged for use on the walls to offer a touch of nature in this gritty urban location. Windows are screened by sheers.
Maynard likens interior design to clothing—higher quality often is purer and simpler, with greater reliance on quality materials and detailing. The emotional impact of different colors dictated her palette choices. “On finishes, I strive for a balance of cool and warm. Cool tones of blue and gray are good for lowering anxiety, but used alone they can feel chilly. So I try to add a few warmer colors, along with natural wood,” she explains.
Her clients questioned her use of soft tones, fearing they would show every mark over time, and she cited her experience of renovating a tough high school in Orange County. The old school building was covered in graffiti, and in repainting it she chose a paler color, guessing correctly that it would be treated with more respect. “I’ve learned how to stretch a dollar and make materials look more expensive than they are,” says Maynard.
Maynard will have the opportunity to extend her concept when two adjacent spaces are built out—one for massage therapy and yoga, the other for a shop selling homeopathic products. Those features should strengthen the center’s appeal to women, but also inspires other healthcare facilities around the country.
Key Design Highlights
- Venetian plaster, a color palette of light blue and gold, and a large watercolor encased in glass set a sophisticated and welcoming tone in the reception area.
- Dr. Ari Babaknia conceived the idea to use rounded corners in the reception to evoke a sensuous, spa-like feel.
- Specialized exam and procedure rooms incorporate separate patient and staff circulation routes for a more relaxed patient experience and overall efficiency.
- Women figured heavily into the design process: The lead designer on the project was a woman and plans were tested with female focus groups for approval.
Los Angeles Center for Women’s Health
Designer HMC Architects
Client Dignity Health
Where Los Angeles
What 17,000 square feet on one floor
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request
Architect and interior designer: HMC Architects.
Architecture and interior design team: Pam Maynard, design principal; Michael Tome, AIA, senior project designer; Jon Richardson, senior project designers; Angela Dopheide, design assistant.
Contractor: Questar Construction.
Engineering: DCGA Engineers.
Wallcoverings: LBI Boyd (digital wall murals).
Paint: Dunn Edwards.
Walls: LBI Boyd (wood veneer); Triarch (veneer plaster).
Flooring: Arizona Tile (tile); Forbo (linoleum).
Doors: Marshfield Doorsystems.
Glass: 3Form (decorative glazing); ADS (art).
Window treatments: KnollTextiles.
Seating: Coalesse (lounge/reception); David Edward (gowned waiting area); Knoll (workstation/task); Steelcase (exam room).
Tables: Coalesse (lobby); David Edwards (gowned waiting areas).