The saying goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But in the case of the newly built Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, it turns out you can judge the quality of care by this gorgeous, thoughtfully designed, state-of-the-art facility set to open in March. The new hospital will provide patients with access to compassionate care, renowned medical experts, and exceptional service as well as a seamless integration with and access to Northwestern Medicine’s specialty care.
“The new hospital is only as good as the clinical team in the building and in the region,” says Tom McAfee, Lake Bluff resident and president of the hospital since 2006. “Although the new hospital is the most tangible evidence of change on the Lake Forest campus, Northwestern Medicine has steadily been building an integrated academic health system to serve the region for nearly a decade.”
And tangible it is.
The sprawling glass and steel structure set on 160 acres—including 116 acres of open space—and anchored by a breathtaking water feature (complete with waterfall), is the result of a complex team collaboration led by the architecture firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli. The firm won the rigorous and highly competitive design competition that attracted top architects from around the world.
“First and foremost, we knew we needed to engage the right architect. Our hospital has been a cornerstone in the Lake Forest community for more than 100 years,” says McAfee. “It was vital we retained a world class architect capable of solving a complex design challenge—to design a large integrated healthcare structure that not only reflected the exceptional brand of Northwestern Medicine, but also complemented the unique aesthetic of Lake Forest and the surrounding landscape.”
Pelli Clarke Pelli rose to the occasion, and beyond. “Pelli spent the time to understand the community,” says McAfee. The firm worked with The City of Lake Forest, the historical society and influential community members, and made sure they understood the architectural heritage of the community including Market Square as well as the geography of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff.
“This project involved an enormous team to design, build, and bring to life,” McAfee continues. “We had a vision of creating what we believe is the most technologically advanced, innovative, and highest quality hospital in the country today.”
“Our goal was to create a world class facility worthy of the Northwestern Medicine brand,” says Mark Shoemaker, AIA and design principal at Pelli Clarke Pelli in charge of the project. “Also, we believe strongly in creating a friendly citizen [the hospital] to Lake Forest. We were always conscious of neighbors’ concerns about overall size and lighting. We didn’t want to create an architectural distraction. And, we drew inspiration from Lake Forest’s architectural heritage—from the urban downtown to the suburban architecture.”
Everyone involved agreed on the importance of, and recognized the enormous challenge in, incorporating the bucolic nature of the hospital’s property and embracing the water in a way to provide a serene landscape and maintain an intimacy of the structure. It’s important to underscore the magnitude of this challenge when designing a nearly 500,000 square-foot building. Add to this the need to design a highly efficient configuration, reduce energy consumption, decrease water use, increase recycling, and enhance the human experience, and you will only begin to appreciate the result on a whole new level.
The building itself is a series of pavilions, arranged in a crescent shape along the pond—to soften the structure and serve as an orienting devise—with one main entrance from which all patient traffic flows.
That’s right. One main entrance and a total of three entry points connected through a thoughtful navigational path (the other two are at the north and south ends of the hospital, providing access points to the cancer center and emergency department).
“When you walk in the front door, you pause and say, ‘I’m in the right place,’” says McAfee.
Patients and visitors enter the spacious, light-filled John and Kathy Schreiber main lobby, which will offer a coffee shop, pharmacy, and gift shop. From there, the Everett and Jane Hauck Rotunda pulls them further in, toward the water visible beyond. From the rotunda—with its towering 33-foot dome—visitors have a simple choice: turn left (north) to go to the clinics and administrative offices, or turn right (south) to head toward the inpatient floors. A monumental stair leads to the cafeteria on the lower level. You can’t get lost because the passageways follow along the arc of the massive water feature just outside, which acts as a navigational anchor. Gone are the days of fumbling one’s way through a labyrinth of color-coded hallways and multiple elevator banks that pull anxious patients and visitors into a maze of confusion.
What’s even more impressive is the internal concourse within and the logistical concourse located below-grade, both of which most visitors will never see. The internal concourse is used by staff and patients providing a level of privacy to patients and reducing traffic in the main hallways and elevators. The logistical concourse is used to accept deliveries of food and other medical supplies below ground, which then make their way up to the units.
“These features reduce the intensity of the space, improve efficiency, and add to patient privacy,” says McAfee.
And that’s just on the inside.
Outside, the massive investment in thoughtful landscaping and extensive walking and biking trails is evident. Overseen by Oslund & Associates, who worked carefully with partners (including Lake Forest Open Lands) to leverage talent locally and globally, created a balance between the building and the open space—comprising 65 percent of the total acreage. The enormous presence of red maples and other tree and plant species complement and envelope the new hospital.
McAfee says he is proud that the hospital has been able to leverage its wellness track, including investing in technology and sub-specialties as a result of the caliber of the Northwestern Medicine brand downtown.
“We’ve achieved a forward-thinking design that is a dramatic departure from the old Lake Forest Hospital, which served our community well for 75 years, while respecting the legacy and attributes of our community,” he adds. “We are thankful for the incredible generosity of our donors who made it possible for us to build a truly academic health care system, which is well-positioned to take care of all of us for the next 100 years,” says McAfee.
WHEN YOU GO
Here are five design and architectural features to look for when you tour the new Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital:
Water feature —
The design team consolidated the need for storm water drainage into one of the most dramatic features of the project: a two-tiered pond and waterfall that embraces the building.
Easy “way-finding” —
The building was designed with one central entrance—using the water as the unifying element that guides patients and visitors in a natural path around the arc—for the most seamless way-finding and positive visitor experience.
Low profile —
The simple low-rise form, with deeply overhanging roofs, emphasizes the horizontal landscape and alludes to the region’s Prairie style. None of the wings is more than three stories high so that the hospital is nicely scaled within its environment.
Landscape integration —
There is a seamless and natural integration of the landscape with the building—using landforms (berms), more than 700 new trees, and many other plantings.
The type of brick selected was intentional—it is used elsewhere on the hospital campus and throughout Lake Forest—as were the lighter color choices and other materials to blend into the neighborhood in scale and character.
Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital is located at 660 N. Westmoreland Road in Lake Forest, 847-234-5600, nm.org.