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This week, I toured a very beautiful hospital.

And despite my reluctance of not wanting to describe hospitals as beautiful, Northwestern Medicine's Lake Forest Hospital in Lake Forest, Ill., is a visually stunning building.

Maybe that's what you get when you hire a starchitect like Cesar Pelli to design your hospital. Pelli Clarke Pelli's other beautiful hospital projects are the Sidra Medical and Research Center in Dohar, Qatar; Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Cleveland Clinic's Crile Clinic Building.

And of course, Pelli's firm had help. Gensler's Chicago office was the architect of record and designed all the inpatient spaces.  HDR designed the outpatient spaces.

But let's get back to the idea of beauty in design and what that means for hospitals. As I wrote in a post a few weeks ago, Rose Winer and Julia Keim at the WELL Building Institute make a strong argument that beauty in design can make us healthier.

How well does Lake Forest Hospital stack up against the WELL Building Institute's criteria for features that integrate beauty and design?

Celebration of Culture

Lake Forest is a wealthy suburb north of Chicago. Lots of rich folks live there -- including many of the professional athletes who play for Chicago's sports teams. In that respect, I'd say that the sophisticated, modern, upscale design of this hospital is a celebration of the culture of its surrounding community.

I also think supports a workplace culture that is reflective of the quality of care provided by Northwestern Medicine.

Celebration of Place

The building's low profile and crescent shape allow it to curve around a retaining pond and blend into the surrounding landscape. Overhanging roofs echo the Prairie style architecture that Frank Lloyd Wright made famous in this area.

The brick on the building's facade is used elsewhere on campus and similar in color and texture to brick in buildings throughout Lake Forest.

The campus includes a walking and biking path so patients, visitors, and community residents can enjoy the beautiful ponds and waterfall next to the building. More than 650 trees and plantings make it feel like a hospital in a park.

Integration of Public Art

Like other hospitals in the Northwestern Medicine portfolio, there is a ton of artwork in Lake Forest Hospital. Many prints adorn the walls, and not just in the public spaces. Two large hanging glass sculptures grace either side of the door as you walk into the main lobby.

One waiting area had a series of multi-colored vertical "blocks" placed up and down along the wall. Other nooks along the main curved corridor overlooking the pond feature a variety of original pieces.

Human Delight

Probably the biggest element of human delight is the waterfall that cascades down into the retaining pond. I didn't see the building at night, but I'm guessing that when all lit up, it looks pretty spectacular.

The three-story rotunda off the main lobby also provides some "wow" factor -- especially to those eating in the cafeteria down below. And the overhanging roofs are cool.

Can't say that any of the patient units I saw offer any human delight (other than the artwork). They are nice but pretty standard with spacious single patient rooms whose best feature is a large window.

Lake Forest Hospital by The Numbers

  • 500,000 sq. ft. (almost)
  • 114 private inpatient rooms
  • 72 outpatient care spaces
  • 106 clinic examination rooms
  • 650+ trees and plantings
  • LOTS of artwork

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Robin Orr

6 years ago

Thanks Sara for this story. I have my spouse in a so-called new hospital that still used the "off the shelf" terrible design of old. Is it only the wealthy communities that understand/demand such "beauty"? Yes, there is a hospital community, but let's not forget what "patient-centered design" advocates fought for? Yes, getting single patient rooms almost killed those who sat for years on the AIA Committee for the Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilites. And yes, the advantages of a window, Roger Ulrich's research proved decades ago...

More work needs to be done enlightening communities, Boards, health care professionals and yes, your "average" architects what evidence and human compassion looks like when designing hospitals in wealthy AND non-wealthy communities.

Keep up the good work my friend telling the stories...

Mark L VanderKlipp

6 years ago

Interested to know if the excellence of the physical spaces is matched by an excellent patient and family experience? How are the staffers that occupy these spaces and deliver care in them prepared to perform? And presuming that this new structure displaces some existing units in other buildings, what about those destinations/staff that are 'left behind'? How is the excitement and energy generated by a multi-million dollar facility reflected throughout the Lake Forest system?

Sara Marberry_013-Retouched-New copy

What's my story? I'm a healthcare and senior living design knowledge expert who writes and speaks frequently about trends and issues affecting these two industries. I'm also a strategic marketing consultant and content creator, working with companies and organizations who want to improve the quality of healthcare and senior living through the design of the physical environment. You can reach me at .

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