Hennepin County Medical Center’s (HCMC) new Whittier Clinic, a family medical clinic in Minneapolis, Minn. designed by HGA Architects and Engineers (HGA), transforms a former brownfield site into a LEED-certified, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood clinic that reinvigorates the multi-cultural core of Minneapolis.
Located at the south end of Nicollet Avenue, where the avenue is blocked at Lake Street by big box retail and poor 1970s-era urban design, the flagship clinic is a dynamic, colorful and “green” destination that welcomes public interaction, and celebrates the neighborhood’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity.
The 60,000-square-foot outpatient clinic reflects the collaboration of numerous clinic stakeholders, including HCMC staff, the neighborhood and community leaders—all of whom helped shape the design of the medical center. The clinic enhances the pedestrian character of Nicollet Avenue along this dense urban site with a public plaza at the primary entry. Welcoming seating, plantings and overhead trellises also emphasize a pedestrian scale.
Because “the neighborhood asked for a dynamic façade,” says Amy Douma, project design architect, the design team incorporated a mix of materials that minimizes the building’s massing, while colorful accents reflect HCMC’s branding as well as the character of the community.
“HCMC’s Whittier Clinic illustrates how a sustainable urban health care development can engage and invigorate a metropolitan community,” Douma says, “and act as a catalyst for future growth in the neighborhood.”
Sustainable Urban Clinic for a Multicultural Neighborhood The Whittier Clinic is Phase One of a new flagship urban health center that broadens HCMC’s market and sets a benchmark for future HCMC clinic development. The outpatient medical clinic is located on an abandoned industrial site, and replaces a large industrial structure, which was an anomaly in the otherwise pedestrian-oriented district with mixed retail and housing. Services include imaging, a pharmacy, a lab, OT/PT and sports medicine, as well as a physician-residency training program. The facility has 48 exam rooms and auxiliary support space.
The center’s most prominent design feature is a public plaza at the primary entry. The plaza includes concrete planters that also function as seating, while a canopy/trellis reinforces a pedestrian scale and defines the street edge.
From the clinic’s entry, the building spreads out into two wings in an L-shaped plan, with administration to the south, and exam room modules to the west. The exterior is a lively juxtaposition of reddish-brown brick, metal panels, staggered window patterns and multiple canopies, inspired by the materials and massing of neighboring buildings. A hovering metal “box” houses the lab and residency program. Colored-glass windows in the metal box, and in screen walls on the interior, match the four colors the hospital system has adopted as part of its institutional branding. At night, programmable LED fixtures in the small windows provide a light show for the neighborhood.
For the clinic’s interior, HGA engaged staff and community members in interactive pre-design workshops to determine space flow for maximum operational efficiency. In addition, the entry to each department is branded with one of HCMC’s four vibrant branding colors reinforced by over-scaled graphic images. The color palette – blue, orange, green and purple – is used throughout the building’s interior as a wayfinding system for the client’s culturally diverse patients, many of whom speak little or no English. Whittier Clinic’s interior layout also features a unique clinic module in which exam rooms are clustered around a central work area for both nurses and physicians. In addition to improving communication between staff, the innovative layout gives the central work area clear visual access to each exam room, thus improving workflow and staff efficiency. Tall clerestory windows bring ample daylight into the clinic’s interiors.
The benefits of the unique clinic module design extend beyond the building’s interiors. Because the work areas are clustered within pods, the building’s exterior wall is—rather than a procession of offices—a lively corridor decorated with artwork, which reinforces the connection with pedestrians outside.
An energy-efficient mechanical system, paired with exterior sunshades to minimize heat gain, ensures conscientious energy use throughout the building. Other sustainable-design strategies incorporated throughout the medical center include low-VOC paints and finishes, and recycled and rapidly renewable materials (such as linoleum for all exam rooms).
From Industrial Eyesore to Urban Amenity To enhance the site’s transformation from industrial eyesore to urban amenity, HGA tapped into its own sustainable landscape expertise and incorporated several pocket parks and urban gardens into the landscape design. The design features low-maintenance, low-irrigation native plants, as well as hardy species that thrive in urban environments.
The neighborhood was actively involved in project planning to ensure the medical center engages with and enhances the community. The building’s design includes meeting rooms for neighborhood groups incorporated into a prominent corner of the building with windows to the sidewalk, reinforcing the project’s community connection.
In response to a pedestrian overlay that is zoned along Nicollet Avenue, nearly half of the parking area for the medical center is located underground. Because the site is adjacent to public transportation, HGA included a new bus stop in the site design, as well as numerous racks for bicycle parking. As a catalyst for development in the area, the Whittier Clinic occupies approximately a quarter of the pre-existing site. For Phase Two, the rest of the block has the potential for further development including a mix of residential, retail and office space.