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Nemours Home Office

One + One = One

Nemours, one of the nation’s largest pediatric health systems, has grown into a multidimensional organization focused on offering personalized clinical and preventive care for children. Desperately needing a new home office, GS&P architects and interior designers helped consolidate all of Nemours’ business operations into a central campus, providing more functional space and improving operational efficiency. The team’s collaboration and Nemours’ vision combined to create a modern home office that embodies the mission and legacy of Alfred I. duPont.

What was the client’s vision for the new environment?

Jeff Kuhnhenn: It was pretty simple. From a financial standpoint, they wanted to move out of spaces they were leasing and consolidate into a single property that they owned. Culturally, they also saw an opportunity to create a better sense of unity.

Leith Oatman: The new CEO, Dr. David Bailey, wanted to move the company toward a new

Nemours, one of the nation’s largest pediatric health systems, has grown into a multidimensional organization focused on offering personalized clinical and preventive care for children. Desperately needing a new home office, GS&P architects and interior designers helped consolidate all of Nemours’ business operations into a central campus, providing more functional space and improving operational efficiency. The team’s collaboration and Nemours’ vision combined to create a modern home office that embodies the mission and legacy of Alfred I. duPont.

culture he termed One Nemours. They were in three different locations, and the physical environment was a deterrent to achieve that culture.

 

Did they have specific ideas about the type of environment they wanted to create?

Jeff: In the beginning, they didn’t articulate a clear vision. We had to help them create a vision, and they were very skeptical of our visioning sessions in the beginning. It took that process for us to be able to define what they actually meant by One Nemours.

Leith: In addition to designing the facility, we acted as their change management consultant. We assisted them with articulating how they wanted their culture to evolve, all the way to the built environment. Working in unison with the Nemours design team, we completely reorganized and redeveloped the job titles that were used within the organization. The ebb and flow of those cultural changes evolved through the programming phase while developing Nemours’ workplace standards. Nemours had many titles for job descriptions. Many of these titles were eliminated in response to developing a more horizontal organization.

You’ve described Nemours as designed “from the inside out.” What do you mean by that?

Leith: As the concept of the culture was further defined, the design team was tasked with developing floor plans that supported the new culture. We started with an interior environment that helped them achieve their desire to change their culture, then wrapped the building skin around the floor plans. The client interviewed five design firms, but GS&P was the only firm to present the “inside out” approach to designing their facility.

Jeff: We really tried to understand what the ideal relationships were between individual employees, workgroups, and whole segments of the organization. In particular, it manifested in the two building schemes that merged into one: one side is more foundation-related and the other is more administrative. Understanding who they were internally and how they wanted their groups to come together formed everything, including determining the right shape for the building. It truly was the most “inside out” process that I’ve engaged in since I’ve been practicing.

Leith: It’s hard to appreciate the monumental transition that this organization put itself through. Trusting us to help them through this process was truly a leap of faith, not to mention the financial investment. Nemours was trying to evolve from a very traditional culture while asking us to lead them through the change. They understood they needed help to achieve their vision.

Jeff: One visioning session sticks out in my mind. A lot of them really had no idea what to expect from these sessions. The meat of it consisted of us asking them a series of questions: How do you see yourself as an organization? Describe yourself today. How would you like to see yourselves? How would you like others outside of the organization to see you? How do you think they see you now? It was a “let’s sit down and take a good hard look in the mirror” session. It made an impact, and I think it was part of building trust.

What were some of the significant changes they wanted to make to the environment?

Leith: A major factor contributing to their vision included incorporating the Nemours Central Business Office (CBO), which is a large part of the employee population. These employees are sitting in cubicles fielding phone calls from Nemours’ patients all day, every day. While there are many components to the CBO, this part of the workforce is between the patient and the insurance company, assisting their patients filing insurance claims. The executive team shared with us that the CBO employees didn’t really know who Alfred I. duPont was and didn’t associate their jobs with his philanthropic contribution to children’s health, nor did they understand the relevance of their work to the Alfred I. duPont Trust. The executives shared with us how very important this part of the workforce was to them and the Nemours organization, and they wanted the occupants of the CBO to share in the wonderful legacy of Alfred I. duPont. In response, we incorporated bits and pieces of the duPont legacy into the interior, including the graphics and artwork, and it’s been a huge success. This design approach has given their workforce an environment that creates identity.

Jeff: They didn’t necessarily want to overplay it or make the new building a monument to the man, but at the same time the executives legitimately believed in duPont’s ideas, so they wanted to focus on his generosity and his belief in service. And they wanted that idea to filter into the building concept.

Given that they wanted to honor duPont’s legacy without creating a monument, were there any challenges associated with using his image on the exterior?

Jeff: Some questioned whether there should even be an image. Most people are not used to thinking about an office building in terms of having a higher purpose. It was actually revolutionary for them to conceive of the notion that a building could do that, so it took a little while for them to get their heads around it. That was a hard concept for some, but we were fortunate to have a couple of champions for the cause. They understood the opportunities that their own building represented in terms of interlacing their message and their identity.

What were the old offices like prior to the redesign?

Leith: Nemours leased about 18,000 square feet of office space for their executives only. When you stepped off the elevator, the exterior walls were lined with closed offices and there were no vistas to the exterior. There were a few individuals in workstations on the inside with no view of the exterior. The area was very dark, with heavy crown molding and blue and burgundy accent colors. It looked like a generic executive office space with a few beautifully framed pictures of children’s artwork located in tight corridors and could not be fully appreciated.

Where was the CBO?

Leith: In a generic two-story building that was originally built as flex warehouse office space. It had a security guard inside the front door. There were very few vistas to the outside and very few windows in the building altogether. It was a sea of generic gray cubicles on gray carpet with gray walls and standard 2' × 4' recessed troffers for lighting.

The new space is rich with natural light, open airy spaces, and beautiful woodwork. What other elements were used to inspire a cultural transformation?

Leith: Even though they desired their culture to become more transparent and inclusive, two very different business functions occur in the facility. The administrative function includes the executive offices, the legal department, and the Learning Resource Center. The CBO is the other function. To address the coexistence of the groups, we created a three-story atrium with a beautiful monumental stair where there could be casual, incidental interchanges between the two different groups just by walking up and down the stairs.

Jeff: It’s kind of an interesting dichotomy in that they wanted One Nemours, but they still needed some functional separation. Since we didn’t want the separation to result in isolation, I think the stairs were a clever solution — the area that separates the two spaces is actually a public place that brings them together. They were always sensitive to the need for some strategic distance, but didn’t want the distinction between the two areas to be perceived in a negative way. It actually satisfies both needs: the need to be together as well as the need to be apart.

Leith: They’ve told us over and over how different it is for individuals from these two areas to interact. A CBO employee, casually dressed, might now pass an executive on the stairs dressed in a coat and tie. And for the first time ever, they say, “Hello, how are you?” Those simple conversations never occurred within the organization before. The new central space off all three floors supports and encourages that kind of interaction.

There are two distinctly different sides of the building, a public entrance and an employee entrance, and each makes a different statement. Why the two different looks?

Jeff: From the start, there was an understanding that this building was going to serve other purposes as well. The south side of the building introduces people into the building through a formal entry process. The north side of the building is much less choreographed and a more comfortable, earthy reminder of the mission every day. For instance, instead of walking straight into the building from the parking lot, you walk along a path through a landscaped area with a fountain, so there’s almost a meditative moment before you enter the building. As you enter, you immediately see a giant three-story mural of kids’ faces in front of you. It serves as an informal, but joyous, reminder of why Nemours exists.

Leith: The child models that were used for the huge three-story graphics are also children of Nemours employees, which mean a lot to them.

As you look back on the project, what makes you the most proud?

Leith: As an interior designer, I am very proud that this building creates an environment that helps them be more productive and supports their business operations. Beyond that, there are only a few moments in a designer’s career when an owner tells you and everyone else over and over how proud they are of the building. They’re proud of what they accomplished through the transition, and they’re proud of the results. And they firmly believe that they would not have achieved the result if we had not diligently insisted going through the visioning process. As Jeff said, they were skeptical about it because they couldn’t understand the value. But I think they absolutely see those sessions as the foundation for the success of this project.

Jeff: The whole experience with the visioning sessions created a place where people could say things to each other they wouldn’t have talked about otherwise. They had conversations about who they are, how they’re going to behave, and what their relationships between one another should be.

All of this is much more meaningful when you view the building as an agent of change, as a catalyst. I think the process we undertook and how well the resulting building works will continue to be a great catalyst for their evolution.

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Project Info

  • Client: The Nemours Foundation
  • Location: Jacksonville, FL, USA
  • Market: Corporate + Urban Design
  • Services: Architecture, Interior Design
  • Team:
    • Joseph F. Thompson, AIA, LEED AP Principal-in-charge, Project Manager
    • Brooke D. Koepke, IIDA, LEED AP Project Professional
    • Jeffrey W. Kuhnhenn, AIA, LEED AP Project Designer
    • Leith A. Oatman, IIDA, LEED AP Project Designer
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