If the heart of the new Swedish/Issaquah Medical Center feels more like an upscale retail experience, it’s intentional. Chic shops, a chef-run café, and the ambient sound of a grand piano are all part of a plan to make the community feel welcome and comfortable. A five-story commons area physically and symbolically links a 353,250-square-foot acute-care hospital and a 175,000-square-foot medical office building. “The commons represents a paradigm shift from a focus on eradicating disease to joining with the community to prevent disease,” says John Milne, medical director for strategic development at Swedish Medical Center. Seattle architects CollinsWoerman achieved this by creating a familiar and inviting space that provides orientation and unity for the complex project.
Built on a previously cleared site, this is the first new hospital in 40 years for Issaquah, a fast-growing community across Lake Washington from Seattle in the forested foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Brick cladding distinguishes the hospital from the medical offices’ cement-panel rainscreen, but the buildings share a common language of vertical mullions and fins that recall the surrounding cedar trees. The multilevel glass facade of the commons joins together the two structures and its iconic curved roof identifies the main entry.
Inside, a modest concierge desk greets visitors. “During early design, we planned for a main check-in desk where the Starbucks is now, but the hospital wanted to avoid an institutional feel,” says James Walker, an associate at CollinsWoerman. He notes that the 17-foot ceiling height required for the first-floor surgical suites is also an ideal height for retail. And that allows for large windows in the café, resulting in a more restaurant-like dining experience with plenty of daylight rather than a mundane, windowless hospital cafeteria. Throughout the medical center, the interstitial space between floors is slightly larger than usual to accommodate larger air ducts—less energy is needed to move air more slowly, and this plays a big part in the project’s 43-percent reduction in energy consumption.
A monumental terrazzo stair leads to the second-floor education and conference center, which is also available for public events. The stair parallels a 60-foot-tall metal sculpture that resembles blades of grass swaying in the wind while concealing a concrete wall. Bringing nature into the medical center through art, materials, and connections to the forest and mountains was key. Beyond the stair, a “living room” with comfortable chairs around a stone fireplace opens onto a lushly landscaped courtyard; a broad porch makes it habitable even on a rainy day.
Connecting all levels of the hospital and medical offices is a central elevator core clad in rough-hewn wood from reclaimed high school bleachers. Waiting areas on each floor bridge the two buildings and have views of the Commons below. Portals clad in a combination of teak and Douglas fir mark transitions from the lobby areas into the hospital units and medical offices. The shared circulation and generous public spaces encourage a sense of community between doctors, staff, and patients. According to Milne, “It goes beyond how we cure disease to how we partner to keep people well.”