Santa Monica, California
Michael Folonis reacted with baffled delight when he was chosen to design the 50,000-square-foot, three-story UCLA Outpatient Surgery and Medical Building in Santa Monica. He had no background in health care. But his client, Randall Miller, an owner-developer who was constructing the building with the intention of leasing it to UCLA, simply told him that a good architect should be able to design anything.
Educated at SCI-Arc and UCLA, Santa Monica–based Folonis worked for Frank Gehry and Ray Kappe before starting his own firm in 1983. His residential, mixed-use, and preservation work of the last three decades expresses his loyalty to the legacy of California Modernists—buildings that use daylight as a material and strive to connect the interior with the outdoors. Perhaps because his portfolio does not include other medical buildings, the architect was able to bring an unencumbered approach and elegance to the UCLA center. “I needed to think about what this building means to people,” says Folonis. “What it means to me is: This is a very scary place. How can I change this experience?”
Two smooth, poured-in-place concrete pavilions frame the three floors and rest on a base of board-formed concrete. A central glass-walled atrium topped with a fritted glass roof separates the two volumes. (A rooftop photovoltaic array supplies 15 percent of the facility's energy. The building is slated for LEED Gold certification.)
To make the lobby as transparent as possible, the architect decided on a point-fixed curtain wall: Suspended sheets of glass are joined with spider fittings, which in turn connect to shiplike steel masts. This system delicately holds the glass in place and eliminates the need for heavy mullions. Three perforated metal sunshades on the exterior shield the western facade from the sun. In addition, the atrium acts as a chimney, funneling warm air up and out when the entry doors are open and a fan is on.
“Wayfinding in most of these places is unbelievably difficult” and an unnecessary stress for visitors, says Folonis. A central, cantilevered steel stair with bamboo treads in the lobby organizes the space, connecting the second- and third-floor bridges that link to services, such as the clinics that span both pavilions on the third floor. Because concrete can be rough and cold, the architect clad many of the interior walls in the public spaces with bamboo panels, to “soften the edge.”
Since the service aspects of the program—such as oncology, prep, and recovery—take up more room than the support spaces, the architect housed them in the larger, north pavilion. It was important to Folonis to push prep and recovery rooms to the glazed northern and western perimeters, rather than the dark cores where they are typically relegated. Even the sterile corridor behind the operating rooms gets daylight from clerestory windows along the eastern facade. On the ground floor, the linear accelerator, the device that uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells, is enclosed in the building's concrete base to prevent radiation leaks.
The smaller, south pavilion contains staff lounges, amenities, and offices. The architect also set this smaller volume apart by cantilevering the second and third floors 25 feet over the first, shading the main waiting room where patients' friends and family members may spend hours. From here they can wander out to a garden designed by Paula Burton.
With no room to grow in UCLA's inpatient hospital across the street, designed by Robert A.M. Stern (with its Italianate flair, it could be seen as the architectural opposite of Folonis's almost Corbusian center), the university needed to shift outpatient services but keep them close, says Richard Azar, director of real estate and design and construction for UCLA's health system. When owner-developer Miller purchased the site in late 2007, it came with the stipulation that he had to build a medical center and give first dibs to UCLA (which had previously owned two of the four combined parcels). It proved to be perfect timing for the university.
UCLA knew it wanted an ambulatory-surgery clinic with eight operating rooms, a radiation-oncology clinic, a blood lab, general clinics, and parking; it worked with Miller, Folonis, and the late health-care planner George Pressler to refine the program room by room.
Over a six-month period, building users, including operating-room nurses, prep/recovery nurses, and sterile-processing technicians, voiced their needs for the center in a series of focus groups. “We weren't building to the typical University of California spec, where everything is 300 percent oversized and gold-plated. We designed a delivery system to avoid that,” says Miller. He also conceived an innovative automated parking system below the center (see sidebar, right).
Collaborating with UCLA, Pressler, and the user groups helped Folonis to focus on his thesis: that there was no reason a medical building couldn't achieve a connection to the outdoors and be filled with daylight. The result is an advanced outpatient center that respects its patients and staff: a great model for the future, since signs point to all but the most acute care taking place outside of large, unwieldy hospitals in years to come.
“It's one of these things that as a young architect, which I'm not, you try to tell potential clients: that you can design lots of different building types,” says Folonis, who is still moved by the opportunity he was given. “It's really about having somebody who will believe in you.”
The waiting area in the garage extends architect Michael Folonis's material theme, with bamboo panels on the ceiling and concrete benches (top). The automated system (bottom) reduces parking volume by 50 percent compared with conventional garages, and saves at least 10,000 miles annually because drivers aren't circling multilevel garages as they look for parking spaces, according to owner-developer Randall Miller.
Park and Go
Speedy automated parking below the UCLA Outpatient Surgery and Medical Building reduces stress and energy use.
“It's not uncommon in Los Angeles to see parking structures that are bigger than buildings,” says Randall Miller, the owner-developer of the UCLA Outpatient Surgery and Medical Building. To avoid that ratio and relieve patients and their caregivers of the stress of parking and searching for their cars, Miller paired a software company with a manufacturer to create a 380-space system to his specifications: Visitors wait only two or three minutes for their cars to be retrieved and rotated so that they face out of the garage, ready to drive away.
“I wanted a people-friendly system,” says Miller. “The public area needed to be wide open. I didn't want anything coming at you from the floor, or grates where you get your high heels stuck.”
At the center, drivers park in one of six drop-off bays, as directed by LED signs, then swipe their UCLA identification card or a credit card at a kiosk. The automated system takes over, directing one of two cranes to align its lift platform with the bay where the car is parked. A roll-up garage door opens, allowing a load-handling device, called the satellite, to slide underneath the car. The satellite lifts the car about an inch off the ground by cradling the tires and carries it onto the crane's lift platform. The crane takes the car to its storage location by moving vertically and horizontally. Valets, watch out! L.R.
Size: 50,000 square feet
Construction cost: $28 million
Completion date: February 2012
Michael W. Folonis Architects
1424 Fourth Street, 3rd floor
Santa Monica, California 90401
Owner: Sixteenth Street Medical Center LP
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Design Professional of record:
Interior designer: Michael W. Folonis Architects
General contractor: Nautilus Group
Photographer: Tom Bonner, 310.396.7125
Renderer: Michael W. Folonis Architects
Metal Panels: Azurelite
Glass: Oldcastle Glass; Avic Sanxin
Metal doors: Seeley Brothers
Other special hardware: Cabinet Hinges: BlumInterior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: USG
Office furniture: Humanscale (“Liberty” designed by Niels Diffrient); Herman Miller (“Canvas Office Landscape” designed by Consultants for Design Strategy, Douglass Ball, and JRuiter + Studio)
Interior ambient lighting: Axis Lighting (“Beam”); Oracle Lighting
Elevators: ThyssenKrupp ElevatorsPlumbing
Chicago Faucets; Just Manufacturing
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: