Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Josie Robertson Surgery Center

In place of an imposing reception desk, the third-floor waiting area features a kiosk dubbed the “beehive,” which offers an unobtrusive, welcoming introduction. Photography by Chris Cooper unless noted

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Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center is focused on redefining the cancer care experience for patients, their loved ones, and care providers. Is it possible to have a sense of calm when visiting a medical facility such as a cancer center? And can interior design enable calm for staff in such an environment? This was the design intent for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Josie Robertson Surgery Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

The 179,000-square-foot facility—comprising 16 floors clad primarily in glass with terracotta and stone at its base—contains 12 operating rooms and 28 private short-stay rooms, with enough capacity to perform 60 surgeries a day. Yet the interiors appear more like a hotel or high-end condominium. Furnishings and finishes— materials and surface treatments—are eye-catching, sophisticated, and diverse. And smart organization creates a combination of privacy, visual excitement, and, yes, calm.

For its Josie Robertson Surgery Center, MSK engaged Perkins Eastman to design the building as well as complete programming and planning. MSK hired New York–based ICRAVE, a firm known for its hospitality expertise, to provide interior experiential design in collaboration with Perkins Eastman. Together, the two firms worked with MSK to create spaces that are more hospitable and humane, and less institutional and clinical.

“There’s so much stress inherent to this type of facility,” says Suzen Heeley, Memorial Sloan Kettering executive director of design and construction. “We tried to think about the whole experience, for everyone. This needed to be a human-centered endeavor.”

“We needed to project optimism and comfort into the design,” says Lionel Ohayon, the founder and CEO of ICRAVE, which focused on the human experience and interior aesthetic for MSK. With only about a quarter of the building’s spaces dedicated to surgery, Ohayon notes that this is a hospitality project more than anything. ICRAVE’s primary role was the design of the third-floor waiting area, a fourteenth-floor area for staff, and, in collaboration with Perkins Eastman, the selection of finishes and furnishings for patient recovery suites and an area called the “oasis.”

Managing family members’ anxieties
The bright, optimistic feeling starts at the ground-level lobby, a light– filled glass-clad space that opens up to the city rather than seeming cramped or foreboding. Elegant elements include high ceilings, marble floors, a backlit onyx welcome desk, a lacy art piece that filters soft light, and even a greeter stationed at the front doorway.

The third floor’s guest waiting room feels like a sophisticated lounge. In rethinking the typical experience, which might have a large, formal reception desk, this lounge has a small reception kiosk set within the space in a more subtle manner. The artful environment, ensconced in a soothing, sophisticated palette, helps visitors to “manage anxieties,” says Ohayan. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide expansive views of the 59th Street Bridge spanning the East River.

Informally organized with seating clusters, oak shelves, coppertube dividers, as well as subtle changes in carpet and ceiling patterns and treatments, the waiting areas are designed to give patients’ loved ones as much variety of experience as possible. In this way, family and friends of patients are occupied, engaged, and given power over their environment. “They feel a loss of control when they get here,” says Heeley. “We wanted to bring some of that control back.”

Varied elements in the waiting area include private and communal workstations, “campsites” for group seating, hideaway “cocoons,” raised activity tables, retail, a cafe, and a game room. Modern furniture is sleek, patterned, and often colorful—welcoming rather than sterile. A rich combination of uplights, downlights, pendants, and recessed illumination adds to the sense of subtle variety. Such design-friendly touches, according to Perkins Eastman Principal Mary-Jean Eastman, were enabled by several factors: The waiting spaces are meant for families, not patients, thus reducing their medical-driven design restrictions; tastes have become more sophisticated in the medical field in recent years; and the facility’s large surgery output enabled a higher-than-usual project budget.

The exceptional art collection, curated by consultant Alice Momm, adds to the feeling that this is as much a hospitality project as a medical one. “You always try to be life affirming. That’s the importance of art,” says Eastman. The elevated design continues on the surgery floors above. Each has its own curated and indirectly lit art walk for patients, and, in its center, an “oasis” lounge space is furnished with couches, tables, and reading nooks. Patient rooms contain, among many amenities, large oak wardrobes, fold-out couches for guests, and floor-to-ceiling windows with expansive views. Fritted glass provides privacy while still allowing for views.

Elevated staff amenities
On the fourteenth floor, a dedicated staff getaway, referred to as the “loft,” is designed with a wide variety of textures and colors. Like the waiting areas for guests and families on the floors below, the “loft” contains varied programming, including a marketplace, meeting and work areas, soft seating, lounge chairs, and bar seating. Floors are rich porcelain tile and patterned carpet, and walls combine ceramic tile, oak millwork, and colorful plaster.

A large wraparound terrace brings employees even closer to the scene outside, a rare amenity for Manhattan real estate and for a medical facility. Heeley and her team studied worker amenities as carefully as patient ones, from easy exit corridors to wellness plans to colorful stairways where staff often spend much of their time. “If the staff is happy,” Heeley says, “the patients will be happy.”

who Architect and interior designer: Perkins Eastman. Architecture and interior design project team: Mary-Jean Eastman; Jeff Brand; Jay Epstein; Duncan Reid; Joanne Violanti; Cristobal Mayendia; Donna-Lee Anderson; Iluminada Cabal; Nicholas DiLeo; Lala Rakhamim; Alex Rivillas; Linton Stables; Shane Walton; Natalie Wu. Interior design project team: Maureen Carley-Vallejo; Diane Goldsmith; Maria Vila; Chris Youssef. Experiential designer: ICRAVE. Experiential design project team: Lionel Ohayon; Siobhan Barry; Jesse MacDougall; Mariela Alvarez; David Taglione; Nick Domitrovich; Patricia Vallejo; Renee Joosten; Ryan Hatch; Manuel Marull; Kevin Kleyla; Alessandro Perinelli. Client: Memorial Sloan Kettering. Client project team: Suzen L. Heeley, IIDA; Richard Choy, AIA; Maria Hinds-Pascall; Lisa Wang. Construction manager: Turner Construction. Project manager: Stantec. Lighting: Hillmann DiBernardo Leiter Castelli. MEP: Jacob Feinberg Katz & Michaeli Consulting Group. Structural: Robert Silman Associates. Kitchen: Clavenger Frable LaValle. Landscape: Plant Specialists. Graphics: ex;it. Acoustician: Shen Milsom Wilke. Vertical transportation: Lerch Bates. Surgical planning consultant: Jeffery Berman Architect.
what Paint: Benjamin Moore. Laminate: Lamin-Art; Interior Arts; Wilsonart; Formica. Solid surface: DuPont Corian. Quartz surface: Ceasarstone; DuPont Zodiac. Drywall: USG. Stone accent walls: Stone Source. Stone walls: Vetter Stone. Wood panels: KD Panels. Terracotta tile: Shildan. Tile: Daltile; Crossville; Nemo Tile; Trikeenan; Floorazzo. Hard flooring: Berardi Stone. Epoxy flooring: Stonclad. Resilient flooring: Nora. Carpet/carpet tile: Bentley; Tandus; Shaw Hospitality; Mannington Commercial. Ceiling/ceiling panels: Benson Industries; Lindner; Decoustics; Armstrong; Xorel; Hunter Douglas; Banker Wire. Recessed lighting: Selux; Amerlux; Architectural Lighting Works; Leucos Kurt Versen; Winona; Ecosense; Usai. Fluorescent/industrial: Focal Point; LSI. Pendants/ chandeliers: Light Years; Vode. Exterior: Bega. Cove lighting: Interlux. Mirrors: Electric Mirror. LED Panels: Rosco. Cove lights: Amerlux; White Goods. Overbed lighting: Visa. Exterior lighting: Kurt Versen. Hardware: Marks; Rockwood. Revolving doors: Crane. ICU doors: Horton Doors. Architectural glass/glazing: Pilkington Optiwhite; Viracon; Benson Industries. Decorative glass panels/partitions: Vivid Glass; McGrory Glass; Clarus; Skyline Design. Window treatments: Lutron. Decentralized nurses’ station: custom. Fabricator: Nexus Steelcase.Toilet accessories: Jaclo; Hewi. Workstation/task seating: Steelcase. Lounge/ reception seating: Andreu World; Softline; American Leather; Bernhardt. Stools: Sandler; Fritz Hansen; American Leather. Patient room guest chairs: Andreu World. Sleepers: Nemschoff. Upholstery: Maharam; Bernhardt Textiles; Arc-Com; Architex; CF Stinson; Textile Mania; Pollack; Carnegie; HBF Textiles; Designtex; Brentano. Conference tables: Haworth Collection. Cafeteria/ dining: Tolix; DWR; De La Espad; Naughtone; ISA International. Reception desk: custom design by ICRAVE. Side tables: Bernhardt Design; Coalesse; Knoll Studio. Other tables: Jofco; Custom; Futrus. Shelving: custom design by ICRAVE. Drawers/casegoods: custom design; DIRTT. Architectural/ custom woodworking: Eastern Millwork.