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United Hospital Center

Excellence Elevated

All you see are trees and mountains of West Virginia,

After almost 50 years in the same facility, United Hospital Center struggled to expand services and update technologies for the growing regional population. To better support the facility’s motto, “Excellence in all we do,” GS&P planned and designed a new facility focused on flexibility, staff efficiencies, and excellent patient experiences. Natural architectural and interior design elements take inspiration from the surrounding West Virginia mountains, and commanding views to the exterior are enjoyed from every private space. The new hospital doubles its previous square footage, offers 292 new private patient rooms, and positions United as the premier healthcare provider in the region.

This project has been on the books for some time. Explain the stops, starts, and associated challenges.

David Stewart: We were originally contracted for architecture and design services in 2000 and went through a number of times when we were on hold, a lot having to do with another hospital challenging the certificate of need (CON). It eventually went to the West Virginia Supreme Court to get resolved.

Scott McQueen: I think it was about six years ago when we first did our first schematic package…

David: …which also led to issues with the budget. We thought in 2002 we were going to start construction. Budget adjustments tend to arise when the budget you set in 2000 doesn’t get spent until 2009/2010.

Scott: Budget concerns were probably the most challenging aspect of this job, at least from my side of things. The whole planing and design process was during a time where the construction industry was booming — Katrina happened, prices were going up, copper was skyrocketing, and our contractor had to get a good handle on the market conditions.

Despite the delays, the facility is due to open in late 2010. Will this be a great improvement for the area?

Jane Skelton: Oh yes, there is nothing there like it nearby.

Scott: Just based on the scale, it is overwhelming when you see the site. It is a huge project.

David: We have projects that have come close size-wise, maybe within 100,000 square feet, but I think the design of this is totally unique compared to any of the ones I’ve seen.

Scott: And what we really developed was an overall healing environment, something they didn’t have at their existing facility.

Why the “overall healing environment”?

Scott: The CEO, Bruce Carter, jokes that he is a dictator. But he appreciates good design, is decisive, and cares a lot for his patients.

Jane: He would tell you it’s the patients that come first, before staff.

Scott: An example is how we developed this project with patient safety in mind. For instance, the patient rooms are standardized, meaning there are no mirrored rooms, and it eliminates a caregiver’s need to get acquainted with different room layouts. We tried to standardize the interiors as much as we could — exam rooms, prep rooms, department spaces.

It was also important to the client that patient rooms didn’t look out to a courtyard and see another wall of patient rooms. That led a very long 72-bed patient unit, but all the patient rooms are facing the front or the back.

David: Wherever you look from a person’s patient room all you see are trees and the mountains of West Virginia. I think that makes such a difference that each one of those rooms looks out on something like that.

What was the concept for such an expansive facility?

Scott: The organizing principle of the whole building was to create two spines, one for public use and one for staff. As a visitor walks in the front door, he encounters this large spine that connects to all the services on that floor. He doesn’t have to walk through a maze of corridors to get to other departments. It makes for a long building — 700 to 800 feet long — but it eases wayfinding because everything is off the lobby.

Creating the spine was one part of the hospital planning concept, and we talked about how we could layer the building to get natural light, not just on the face of the building but also back down to the garden level. It is somewhat layered. There are smaller masses in front, like the gift shop and chapel, and then it steps back to allow light to filter to the back of the mall.

What other natural elements were purposefully incorporated?

Jane: The whole front face of the building is glass, so from the inside you can always see out. It helps orient visitors, and therefore is a good wayfinding element, but it is also good for connecting with nature. We did a lot with the interiors to continue that connection.

On the ride to the hospital, along the interstate you pass blasted rock, and you see the layers and colors in the rocks. We drew our ideas for color and texture from those, and those ideas are in the layers of linear tile on the inside of the building. We left negative spaces in the tile to form three different repeating tree patterns in the wall. On the floor above, we used the same tile pattern but with wood panels, and then the trees again in the negative space.

David: The interior layering became a physical manifestation of the layering on the outside of the building. There are physical walls in the form of wing walls, and they enhance the layering effect. The entrance to the building is the intersection between these different layers — puncturing multiple layers — and it helps visitors understand where the entrance is.

Did the size and shape of the building create any concern for the caregivers and their ability to respond quickly?

Scott: We showed them numerous types of nursing units. We measured footsteps and travel distances. But it came back to their number one priority of not creating a patient room that looks out into a courtyard or into another patient room. It goes back to the CEO’s vision of “patient first.” He expects staff to take an extra five steps if that means a patient has a calming view out the window.

David: We also talked with them about how they can flex between different units, and this design does allow a lot of flexibility because all the rooms are basically in a line.

Scott: They can house patients closer to the nurses’ stations and then grow outward as their census increases. They can flex back and forth between units and staff accordingly along one linear path.

David: And each floor pan is broken into four slightly offset pieces to help provide a human scale to the 700-foot corridor. The nurses’ stations are located in the middle of those pieces, and we placed windows to provide good natural light.

What makes you the most proud knowing that this project will finally see completion in the near future?

David: The site is in the mountains, and there is not one piece of flat dirt anywhere near there. They actually did a pretty extensive search to find the right site located right off the interstate with very convenient access. Each time I go, I think the scale is fitting for the site. The patient rooms are so high, and it basically feels like it is on top of the mountain.

Scott: It was exciting and refreshing to have a client that understood and appreciated planing and design and listened to us like he did. The market conditions kept putting us a little over budget, but Bruce always seemed to appreciate good design, and so he kept some things that others might not have. It was good to have a client that would do that.

Jane: So many times big items get value engineered out of a design — things you plan that you consider special to the project. Bruce constantly reminds us of the expensive wood walls, but he understands the value of the design and is really sold on it. This is a one of a kind facility.

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Project Info

  • Client: United Hospital Center
  • Location: Bridgeport, WV, USA
  • Market: Healthcare Design
  • Services: Architecture, Engineering, Interior Design, Planning, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP), Structural Engineering
  • Team:
    • Kenneth A. Priest, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP Principal-in-Charge
    • C. Scott McQueen, NCARB, LEED AP Project Manager, Project Designer
    • David J. Stewart, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP Project Professional, Project Designer
  • Awards:

    Middle Tennessee AIA, 2008 Award of Citation

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