Challenge: Convert a big-box retail store into a children’s clinic.

Solution: Open up the storefront to let in light, organize the care areas according to service, and update the infrastructure.

In a retail center about 20 miles south of Seattle, just off the interstate, a former Circuit City has found new life as an outpatient clinic for Seattle Children’s Hospital. Previously characterized by its archetypical concrete box exterior, the repurposed structure, designed by ZGF Architects, now greets visitors with a brightly colored entrance canopy, verdant resting areas, and a facade of perforated metal. Inside the single-floor building, the once windowless store for consumer electronics has been transformed into a light-filled medical facility serving the area’s large population of young people.

The South Clinic project—ZGF’s first conversion of a nonmedical building into a new healthcare facility—exemplifies a growing trend of healthcare providers opting to adaptively reuse big-box stores. As vendors such as Sears, Sports Authority, and Kmart continue to close doors across the country, their spacious, often open-plan interiors can offer viable solutions. Seattle Children’s chose the Circuit City site because of its low rent, existing parking infrastructure, and easy access to public transportation and major roadways. Visibility has also emerged as an added benefit: “People who frequent Costco and the other adjacent establishments know there’s an urgent-care facility there,” says ZGF principal Victoria Nichols.

According to Nichols, distinguishing the clinic’s exterior from that of other properties within the shopping outlet was an important consideration. “We needed to make it inviting and also not to appear as just another retailer,” she points out. So the design team created a strong identity through signage and the use of color and texture. It also included a Japanese rain garden to capture rainwater runoff from the canopy.

To update the 37,000-square-foot space for use as a healthcare facility, the team stripped and replaced the existing mechanical system and installed medical gas pipes and IT infrastructure. Programmatically, the vast floor plate of the existing building proved beneficial. “We had a lot of freedom— there weren’t a lot of monuments to work around from the planning standpoint,” says Nichols. Because the windowless space was extremely deep, it lacked proper daylight, so the design team opened up windows to add storefront space and get sunlight into the interior.

Working with Seattle Children’s to identify opportunities for minimizing waste and improving efficiency, the architects chose to organize the clinic around three back-of-house pods, respectively dedicated to urgent care, cardiology, and more general use. In each pod, a series of exam rooms line the perimeter of a central workspace where caregivers can collaborate while also having direct access to patients. Additional patient care rooms sit in the front of house, as well as a rehabilitation gym, conference room, and play and waiting spaces.

Throughout the pods and the front-of-house area, interior design elements such as wall graphics and wood paneling express a natural theme, reflecting the prominent role of parks in the area. The natural motifs also help soothe visitors of all ages.

Creating an efficient patient flow was top priority for the architects. Unlike with hospitals, clinic design “doesn’t necessarily need to replicate the home environment,” Nichols explains. Patients and families are moving through the facility much more quickly, so wayfinding becomes critical.” To facilitate this, the design team made use of color coding: Cabinets, paneling, and exam room floors and walls correspond to the specific hue of the pod.

“Because of the layout and wayfinding techniques, the caregiving process was really streamlined,” says Nichols. The maximization of dual-purpose exam rooms, team spaces, and shared equipment have led to more orderly scheduling practices, as well as a reduction in duplicate information gathering. The design has also achieved reduced storage space and a 75 percent decrease in the total number of specialty treatment rooms required. As a result, ZGF’s dramatic transformation provided the clinic with a cost-effective solution that offers convenient and enhanced patient-centered care.