It wasn’t long after Northwestern merged with Lake Forest Hospital in 2010 that rumors began to whirl about an imposing structure that would soon replace the iconic community hospital that more resembled a country estate than a bustling healthcare facility. Today, plans for the new structure—far from imposing—are well under way. Two architectural firms have been engaged to design the state-of-the-art campus. Pelli Clarke Pelli, based in New Haven, Connecticut, is designing the exterior of the building, while HGA out of Milwaukee is creating plans for the hospital’s interior functionality.
“Lake Forest has been one of the most involved communities I have worked with in a long time,” says Fred Clarke, lead architect for the building’s exterior. “We’ve found the community’s interest very energizing and invigorating.”
Long before any designs were in motion, Fred and his team did extensive research of Lake Forest. “We discovered two things,” explains Fred. “One was the importance of the architectural heritage and tradition that exists in Lake Forest. Market Square is a very, very good example of this—civic buildings that are part of the residential fabric of the community. We also looked at the community from its natural landscape. One of the things you perceive immediately when you visit Lake Forest are the beautiful buildings that are placed in an extraordinarily beautiful setting,” Fred adds.
Fred wondered about the origin of this and soon uncovered that Lake Forest’s street system is built on a series of ravines that take water from the high land down to the lake. Over the years, these ravines created hills and the street system conformed to these ridges. “It’s not at all a standard grid-like street system,” Fred says. “It’s very picturesque with few straight lines—very organic. This was an important aspect that we wanted to build upon.”
The challenge to Fred and his team was to marry the community’s love of traditional architecture with the perceived image of what a 21st century healthcare facility is expected to look like.
“There’s been a lot of concern about the height of the building,” says Fred. “Our design is much lower than Northwestern had originally been given approval for. It’s largely horizontal, to be constructed mostly of brick, that embraces the earth. It will fit beautifully with the landscape.”
The focal point for the revitalized hospital will be a new man-made lake. “The new hospital is not one big building—it will be a series of buildings surrounding a lake, similar to a resort setting. The lake will be what you look out upon, what you’re constantly seeing as you move through the building. Some hospitals have you looking out at parking lots or loading docks; this will not be at all that kind of experience. This will be a very sensitive and healing environment,” Fred says. According to him, all public spaces will look at this lake and most patient rooms will have a view of a natural landscape.
At the forefront of the design is the need for people to be able to orient themselves quickly when they walk through the hospital’s doors. “There’s nothing worse than being in a hospital, not being well, and getting lost. We’re solving that problem once and for all. We’re creating a building that’s very open, full of natural daylight, and very easy to find where you need to go,” Fred adds.
This July marked the beginning of construction at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. After many years of planning, the new entrance road to the campus from Route 41 is under way.
The new entrance will provide direct access to the hospital campus and reduce traffic at both the Deerpath Road and Waukegan Road entrances. This is the first in a series of projects leading up to the ultimate construction on the hospital. The goal is that the new hospital will be fully operational by the spring of 2017. “This will be a building that has grown from the soil of the community,” Fred says.
To stay up-to-date on the progress of the new Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital facility, visit lfh.org.
– Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kirsten Ulve