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St. Vincent's Medical Center

Design of the Riverhouse Spirituality Center strengthens community and Medical Center ties

You don’t have to ask people how they feel about the space.They love telling you. - Jack Logue, Former COO, St. Vincent’s Cancer Center

St. Vincent’s Medical Center has been a presence in the historic Riverside Avondale area of Jacksonville, Florida, for decades. But it’s always been an uneasy fit in what is essentially a residential neighborhood on the banks of the St. Johns River. So when the hospital proposed a six-story addition to the medical campus to accommodate expanded cardiology services, family overnight stay suites, a spirituality center and Sisters’ residence, the neighbors came out to protest the plan.

Joe Thompson, AIA, NCARB, principal-in-charge, said, “GS&P was not involved in the architecture of the proposed six-story building design, but offered some ideas to St. Vincent’s that might appease the neighbors.” Instead of one massive structure dominating the neighborhood, GS&P suggested a design solution that would create an architectural bridge between the eight-story main hospital and the area’s two-story homes. The mass would be broken into structures no more than three stories high. GS&P was subsequently hired to be the architect and interior designer for this project. After a process of negotiating with neighbors, the hospital and Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP), a final design solution was developed that met the requirements of both the medical center and its neighbors.

Three structures—the cardiology building, a parking structure and the Riverhouse—step down in height along a full city block of King Street that extends to the riverfront. The exteriors of all three buildings are brick, as are many of the houses in the area.

At the top of the block, the cardiology building, at three stories high, is the tallest and acts as an architectural transition between the existing hospital and the surrounding residences. It is designed so that there are minimal windows overlooking neighboring houses. Also rather than being built out to the property line, the cardiology building has a backyard delineated by an aesthetically pleasing wrought iron fence, which becomes the neighbors’ back fences, too.

The nature of the medical services provided in the cardiology offices required a bridge that would stretch across King Street to the main hospital. Because King Street leads directly to the river and a popular walking path, it was important not to obstruct the view from the street beyond the hospital. So the bridge uses as much glass as possible and users enjoy panoramic views of the river.

The parking structure servicing the new facilities is located further down King Street. At two stories, it blends into the complex without disturbing the neighborhood at night. Since the complex is only open during the day, the lights on the open top deck are low and one façade is a solid wall, reducing the amount of sound and light that can spill into the neighbors’ backyards.

At the end of the street, overlooking the St. Johns River, stands the Riverhouse, which includes the Sisters’ residence and almost two dozen family overnight stay suites. The building also houses a Spirituality Center dedicated to the needs of the hospital’s employees and includes a chapel that overlooks gardens and the river beyond. There are interior meditation spaces in quiet corners throughout the building, on patios and in tranquil gardens, while the interior arts and crafts millwork suggests the tranquility, simplicity and exquisite craftsmanship of another time. Jack Logue, who retired recently as Chief Operating Officer of the medical center and now runs the Spirituality Center within the Riverhouse as a volunteer, says people tell him, “It reminds me of my grandmother’s house.”

The hospital put the former Sisters’ residence, a historically important property, on a barge and floated it down the river, to make way for the Riverhouse. It now sits on another waterfront site one block away, rehabbed and repurposed, helping to maintain the neighborhood’s character. Derelict buildings on the King Street site were demolished, the new buildings are surrounded by trees, shrubs and other greenery and the architects left the historic neighborhood better than they found it.

The Mission architecture and interior design style pays homage to Henry John Klutho, a prominent early twentieth-century architect. According to the project architect and interior designer, Jim Kolb, Klutho had a significant impact on the original development of the area. This distinct style is what Riverside Avondale Preservation wanted to protect when they protested the original plans for a hospital addition.

It was GS&P’s ability to really listen to the organization’s needs and translate them into a design that really made this project a success. “They have gone from protesting the design to naming us their ‘Architect of the Year,’” said Jim Kolb.

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Project Info

  • Client: St. Vincent's HealthCare
  • Location: Jacksonville, FL, USA
  • Market: Healthcare Design
  • Services: Architecture, Interior Design, Planning, Functional Space Programming, Urban Planning and Design
  • Team:
    • Amy Hoffman, LEED AP Interior Designer
    • James R. Kolb, RA, LEED AP Project Designer
    • Joseph C. Bucci Project Manager
    • Joseph F. Thompson, AIA, LEED AP Principal-in-Charge
    • Larry D. Leman Construction Administrator
    • Mark C. Meatte, AIA, ACHA, LEED AP Project Manager
    • Paul W. Luther, AIA Project Architect
    • Penny J. Houchens, IIDA, LEED AP Interior Designer
    • Sarah A. Rink, IIDA Interior Designer
    • Sean Bayot Project Coordinator
    • Shawn Kirouac Project Manager
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