Cancer treatment carries a certain stigma. Until drugs that lessened side effects became available in the mid-1990s, patients were relegated to hospital beds while receiving chemotherapy. Even now, the standard infusion process is typically a stressful day-long event for patients who spend most of it packed into waiting rooms.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York recognized the inefficiency of this model and examined the treatment process from the perspectives of patients, staff, and families. MSKCC created the Brooklyn Infusion Center (BIC), designed by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects (ZGF) of Portland, Oregon, as a prototype facility that eliminates waiting time while providing patients with personalized care close to home. The center operates on a "chemo-ready" model: patients first visit MSKCC's Manhattan headquarters for blood work and screening and, once cleared, they schedule treatment at BIC. "It allows patients to live as full and normal lives as possible," explains Jan Willemse, partner at ZGF. "They're not stuck in a waiting room, but instead can visit with their grandkids or go to a movie."
The team selected a 7,745-square-foot storefront space on Atlantic Avenue, a busy thoroughfare near downtown Brooklyn. The location was chosen based on the density of patients living in the borough, as well as its proximity to multiple subway lines. From the street, the center appears to be an inviting neighbor to the surrounding shops, and is not at all institutional; with its minimal signage, passersby often mistake the space as a gallery or spa. In fact, it does contain a gallery: the lobby serves as an exhibition area for work by local artists.
Indoor pocket park
Upon entering the front door, patients
greeted by a staff member or they can choose to check themselves in. Then they proceed directly to one of the 12 unique treatment rooms, referred to as "pods," situated along the edges of a light-filled "Central Garden" lounge zone. "We spent a lot of time with the idea of sanctuary," explains Willemse. "New York is intense, as is therapy, so we created a variety of spaces that allow patients to choose whether to interact and be social or to remain more private."
Modeled after New York's pocket parks, this central space provides an area for patients, staff, and caregivers to mingle and relax. Lush tropical foliage spills from custom-designed planters with integrated upholstered seating and cozy throw pillows. Lounge chairs provide a view of a soothing water feature. A "farm table" accommodates meals or a game of bridge or chess. For those who crave a quieter experience, a library and reading nook are at the rear of the space.
Though the central garden is truly an interior space and lacks windows, some light filters in from the lobby through a millwork element punctuated by openings. Indirect illumination mimics natural light, softly emanating from coves and recesses beneath the planters.
Customized treatment pods
Instead of standard hospital curtains, the treatment pods are separated from the central garden by sleek sliding glass doors. A custom fritted pattern provides some privacy, but maintains a visual connection. Each pod features a unique color scheme with painted accent walls and built-in banquette seating that accommodates several guests. Material cues invite the patients to make themselves at home: the wood-tone portions of the millwork are meant for storing their belongings, while the white Corian areas are intended for staff use and conceal chemo supplies.
The custom chemotherapy chairs are covered in padded yet durable vinyl, and outfitted with fold-up desks and swiveling touch-screens that allow patients to check email, shop online, watch television, listen to Pandora internet radio, play games, order lunch from local restaurants, or even chat with doctors via Skype. From the chair, patients can also control the pod's lighting, selectively dimming fixtures.
The design of the Brooklyn Infusion Center provides patients with the power of choice. While receiving treatment, one can stay in the pod or engage with others in the central garden. "Patients own this facility and design their own experience," says Wendy Perchick, chief of strategic planning and innovation at MSKCC.
The best testament to the success of
this new model for cancer treatment? Perchick says, "A patient told me
that he felt the healing
intensified here because he was so relaxed."
MSK Brooklyn Infusion Center. Architect ZGF Architects LLP. Client Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Where Brooklyn, New York. What 7,745 total square feet on one floor. Cost/sf Withheld at client's request.
Photos by John Bartelstone Photography and Chun Y Lai
Jan Willemse, AIA, LEED AP, partner in charge, Sharron van der Meulen, principal interior designer, Mathew Fleck, associate AIA, senior designer, Michael O'Meara, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, project architect, Bethany Clouse, IIDA, LEED AP, interior designer, John Breshears, AIA, PE, LEED AP, sustainability coordinator, Barbara Kubasti, AIA, medical planner
JGN Construction Corporation
Silman Associates - structural, AKF Engineers - MEP
Arenson, New York
Armstrong - bamboo, Forbo - treatment pods
Armstrong - acoustical, Rulon - wood paneling
Celestial Lighting - planter LED, Philips - reception wall LED, Jesco - pod bench lighting, Edison Price - recessed
Skyline - glass, Tice Industries - custom handles
Davis Furniture Industries - blue lobby and farm table chairs, Moroso - community gallery chairs, IOA - custom chemo chairs, Modus - orange seating in garden
Pollack, Designtex, Maharam, Arc-Com Fabrics, Brentano, KnollTextiles
NY Custom Interior Woodcraft
Aqua Design Group
Hightower - side tables in garden