UNC Hospitals Hillsborough Campus

Public spaces and corridors feature nature-inspired elements, such as backlit photographic panels, that aid in wayfinding. Photography by Halkin | Mason Photography

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When the UNC Hospitals’s leadership set out to expand its main campus in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the aim was to create a new facility that would deliver the best healthcare services in the region. But the existing campus had limited growth potential, so UNC Hospitals chose to construct a new facility—UNC Hospitals Hillsborough—on an 83-acre greenfield site in nearby Hillsborough, North Carolina. Designed by ZGF Architects and developed as part of a master plan for phased growth, the new medical center was created to adapt to new healthcare innovations, promising to keep it on the cutting edge of patient care.

“We wanted this to be a place that was about healing, not illness,” says Jeffrey Strickler, associate vice president of the new UNC Hospitals Hillsborough campus, the latest addition to a group of hospitals affiliated with the UNC Health Care System owned by the state of North Carolina. The newly opened satellite medical center—including a 270,000-square-foot hospital with a Level II emergency department, 68 licensed beds, 15 observation beds, and a surgical suite with operation rooms and pre- and post-recovery areas, as well as a 60,000-square-foot medical office building—will allow UNC Hospitals to deliver excellence in healthcare.

As a system, UNC Hospitals functions as an academic medical center that also provides emergency care, acute and elective surgical operations, inpatient hospital beds, and outpatient services for North Carolina’s Memorial, Women’s, Children’s, Neurosciences, and Cancer Hospitals, and it was well-poised to rely on the latest evidence-based healthcare design research. “As an academic hospital, we have so many teams of experts on both the design and clinical sides who stay current in the field on developments in hospital construction—so we had the opportunity to really do things right,” says Strickler, who oversaw the project management of the Hillsborough campus’s first phase.

Accent on nature
Tapping into the wooded surroundings and the topography and history of North Carolina for inspiration, the ZGF design places emphasis on the role nature plays in the healing process. “It was important to capture the views into the woods, as they really improve patient outcomes,” says John Thompson, ZGF’s principal in charge of the project. The lobby’s glass facade and the broad windows of the L-shaped patient-room wings offer access to natural light and views of the rolling country side. Interior materials and imagery enhance the uplifting, familiar ambience. Public space and corridor interiors feature elements that echo North Carolina’s three types of topography—mountainous, piedmont, and coastal—serving as wayfinding guideposts and positive distractions for patients. Materials such as terrazzo floors, local cherry wood wall paneling, and a limestone feature wall in the lobby are a nod to the outdoor environs, while backlit, nature-inspired photographic panels, artwork by local artists, and historic photographs of North Carolina settings complement the mix.

ZGF and the client are aiming for LEED Silver certification for the medical center, which was constructed with multiple sustainable features. “The state of North Carolina requires higher energy and water conservation measures than many other states, and the client wanted to pursue LEED certification,” says Heidi Jones Huffman, associate partner on the project, noting that low-emitting adhesives, sealants, and coatings are a few of the sustainable features employed throughout.

Inviting, supportive spaces for all

Although designed to be patient-centric, the medical center’s interior is inviting and functional for both medical personnel and visitors. Custom features like a footwall with a built-in wardrobe, patient room care boards with themed landscape imagery, web-enabled televisions, mini refrigerators, and safes for personal belongings make rooms more comfortable for patients and family alike.

For medical personnel, semi-secluded touchdown spaces and acoustically buffered nursing stations enhance the caregivers’ work environment. Other interior design features that will help elevate care delivery include first-to-market sinks with offset faucets, separate pre- and post-surgical access points and separate clean and dirty elevators around a clean core in the operating area, and motion-controlled sliding doors that minimize infection transmission.

While the challenge of healthcare design is increasingly complex, ZGF succeeded in responding to client directives focusing on five key areas—stress reduction, medical innovation, patient safety and quality care, operations and performance, and metrics and efficiency—while incorporating sustainable features in the state-of-the-art UNC Hospitals Hillsborough campus.

UNC Hospitals Hillsborough Campus
Architect: ZGF Architects
Associate Architect: BJAC/EYP
Client: UNC Hospitals
Where: Hillsborough, North Carolina
What: 270,000 total square feet on four floors
Cost/sf: $404