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« A Funny Thing May Happen on the Way to AI | Main | Four Strategies for Hospitals to Strengthen Their Communities »

What Corporate Campuses and Healthcare Campuses Can Learn from Each Other 

Image © Gensler

This post is part of a series related to Uniting Healthcare + Community.

Several months ago, my son fractured his wrist, precipitating a late-night trip to the emergency room. As we pulled up to our local hospital, which had recently undergone a major renovation, my husband and I were unable to find the entrance to the ER. After circling the campus several times, we decided to park the car and walk to the nearest building entry, trusting that whatever signage we found inside would direct us to where we needed to be inside the ten-headed monster of the main hospital building.

Historically, medical network campuses have grown organically. Often started as a single, 1960s-era stand-alone hospital building, these campuses have expanded over time to increase capacity, both in number of rooms and in variety of services. In addition, many campuses have grown to include clinics and special facilities for senior care, among other uses. This often-haphazard spread is exacerbated by facility construction cycles that are fueled by specific gifts from individual donors.

Challenges of constrained space and an ever-changing operational terrain have required health network campuses to evolve in a way that optimized development options.

Contrast this with the corporate commercial office building campuses that dot the suburban landscape today. These campuses are often neatly organized, with stand-alone buildings surrounded and supported by surface parking. Planning for these campuses was frequently completed with a larger extent of certainty and control. Corporations would predict financial growth targets, which corresponded to an increase in staff, leading to an increase of seats, and a need for new office space. Growth might not have been linear, but it was somewhat more predictable. What resulted are campuses that are organized and integrated with their natural surroundings, but that are somewhat sterile and lack the vitality of more urban business neighborhoods.

This controlled environment has allowed corporate campuses to evolve in a way that maximizes control over physical planning.

Learning from each other

Today, both types of campuses are finding themselves at a crossroads. Health networks are dealing with increasing specialization, big data and the ability to provide services that have been traditionally face-to-face in a virtual manner. Corporate campuses are dealing with shrinking office space demand and competition for talent with more urban locations. Both sets of drivers will challenge how these campuses serve users and remain competitive places where people want to be.

The key to the relevance and continued functionality of these places in the future is to provide better physical linkages to the communities which they serve. Here are four ways that campuses can do that:

1. Create a place with heart and identity

Think about a recent health or corporate office campus you’ve visited—could you draw a picture of what it looked like? If the answer is no, the chance is that it doesn’t have an identity or sense of place. If the image is of a fortress building in a sea of parking, the news is worse.

Both health and commercial office campuses should aspire to have at least one space that embodies what happens there. This place can reflect the values of the owner or operator and can provide a location for community events. This place can be a main street or town commons or center where all users can come together.

Willowbrook MLK Wellness Community. Image © Gensler

2. Integrate nature

Commercial office campuses—particularly those in suburban settings—often feature buildings (and parking) located in a natural setting, but many times nature is treated as a green buffer at the fringe of the campus, or is consolidated around a stormwater retention pond. In contrast, many health campuses have had to maximize buildable area on their fixed campus grounds; in this case nature isn’t in the wrong places, it just isn’t there at all. Both situations can be improved.

Tulsa Cancer Institute. Image © Nick Merrick

3. Switch the parking equation

In the next 10 to 15 years, issues of traffic and parking—two of the major friction points between campuses and their communities—may be old news. Increasing reliance on public transit and the advent of autonomous vehicles will disrupt one of the major organizers of campuses today: cars. For both types of campuses, this may result in much smaller parking needs, freeing up additional space for development and open space. Or, it may involve conversion of structured parking garages for other uses.

The Garage at Northwestern. Image © Garrett Rowland

4. Integrate mixed uses

Mid-20th century planning techniques promoted establishment of distinct use zones, such as central business districts that catered to car culture. Today, the adoption of technology that allows us to work around the clock, paired with preferences for walkable, compact environments, mean that mixed-use environments are those that people seek out. Supportive amenities, like drycleaners and corner markets, should be integrated on campuses in a significant way that cater to the way people live and work today.

Facebook Headquarters Campus. Image © Jasper Sanidad

Though seemingly very different, both commercial office and hospital campuses have the ability to learn from each other–particularly in the way that both can improve connections to their communities of users and neighbors.

Stay tuned for our next post in this series which focuses on improving the healthcare experience through enhanced access and engagement prior to care delivery.

Want to join the conversation on the future of healthcare? Save the date for a June 13th event in Gensler’s Washington, D.C. office. Details and registration information will be provided in our next blog.

Carolyn Sponza is planner, urban designer, and architect with great expertise in creating memorable, contextually relevant, and sustainable places. Trained in both social science and design at the London School of Economics & Political Science and the Catholic University of America, she is highly regarded for her knowledge and passion of the urban environment. She frequently speaks on issues impacting the built environment and community revitalization. Contact her at carolyn_sponza@gensler.com.