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Mercy Hospital Patient Tower

A new patient tower need evolves into an improved campus plan built on principles of community, hope and life

Dramatic, innovative design with spiritual aspects... Beautifully complex.

There are few places anyone feels more vulnerable than in a hospital.  Patients, their families, and hospital employees alike need hopeful environments. The remarkable patient tower addition and campus for Miami’s Mercy Hospital provide just that with architecture that builds psychological and physical shelter. Designed around the protective concept of a grotto, extensive gardens and walking paths, and an inviting, light-filled entrance, the new plan focuses on support for patients and visitors, all while embracing the community.



Explain the client’s original challenge and how you developed a solution.

Greg Wieland: The client wanted to add a 15-story patient tower to their healthcare facility. They already had a master plan, a vision of where the tower would be located and an idea of how it would mesh with the existing building. Their direction to us was to make sure the new tower provided views of Biscayne Bay.

From the start, we saw this as an opportunity to build upon the Hospital’s Catholic-based mission of care, create a stronger presence for the institution from the main road and enhance operational efficiencies and interior circulation. Once we moved the tower to its new location, ideas of an enhanced approach, improved entry points, wayfinding, a landmark chapel, walking path—even the concepts of a spiritual shelter—began to emerge. As a designer, it was a perfect example of establishing a foundational solution to a problem, and then proving it through the resulting benefits.

Where did you begin?

Greg: We first studied floor plans of the existing facility to understand the location of the Hospital’s major functions and how the new tower could best be integrated with them. Our evaluation culminated in a patient tower site that differed from what the client originally envisioned, and required moving the existing chapel. However, our proposed location provided opportunities for enhancing operational efficiencies and separating public and patient circulation. Visually and functionally, the revised placement pushed us to break up some of the existing rigidity of form and take better advantage of the land. By relocating the chapel, we could also give it a much stronger presence while helping to enhance access to existing hospital functions.

Tell me about these various elements that formed the overall facility design.

Greg: One of the most dominant architectural features is a wood-inset, grotto-shaped form that creates the top of the patient tower, along with a curved facade of mosaic-patterned glass that sits in front of it.

The more we looked at ways to express the hospital’s faith-based heritage, the more it made sense to use this form. For centuries the grotto has been a symbol of shelter and protection, and its use in the building’s form reinforces the Hospital’s mission to provide physical and spiritual care and support.

It is designed to be lit at night to create a beacon, which can be seen from a great distance in the surrounding community and bay. It also masked mechanical systems on the top of the building.

And the connection to the bay?

Greg: The multicolored, convex-shaped glass façade, which sits in front of the grotto form, is also an important design feature. It was inspired by two elements: the sparkling effect of the rising sun on Biscayne Bay and the diverse, multiethnic culture of the surrounding community.

Marc Sauvé: The Hospital has a significantly international clientele, largely Caribbean, Central American and South American. The common theme that ties this diverse culture together is a strong spiritual bond.

Greg: Other architectural features include the curved glass entry concourse and a floating canopy that slips under the new patient tower. These elements help create a more identifiable entry area featuring a sun-lit, two-story space.

How do the aesthetics of the entry and lobby space tie-in to the symbolism?

Greg: The entry concourse also serves to connect the patient tower to the existing buildings with the new chapel anchoring one end and a sun-lit patient reception/registration area on the other. The design also helps create a new public circulation pattern and leaves the old spine dedicated to staff and material movement.

Mindy Graves-Ajami: The expansive glass wall provides a good example. Its basic function is to bring light and natural views deeper into the space. But its mosaic quality is symbolic of the different types of people and nationalities served by the hospital.

Ed Hengtgen: The glass also represents the reflection from the water. The client wanted to make sure their building had a strong connection to the bay and the colors that come off the water—the earth tones and the blues and greens. The facility has terrific views of the bay, and the design of the entry was a way to convey those views during a visitor’s initial experience.

Greg: Landscape features are also integral to the overall design. For example, we incorporated several gardens that we envisioned being developed by local community groups. Pathways throughout these landscaped areas extend from the hospital entry and dining plaza to a pavilion overlooking the bay. They create what we refer to as “Pathways of Hope.” These pathways provide opportunities for patients, visitors and others to explore, wander and reflect, while the pavilion can serve as a site for community gatherings or any number of other functions.

How do the pathways and gardens add to a visitor’s experience?

Mindy: The “Pathways of Hope” and garden spaces are primarily for patients and families, but they also provide a means of bringing the community in and letting them enjoy the bay and the view.

Emil Slavik: “Pathways of Hope” goes back to the religious aspect of the facility as well. There are different ways you can look at illness and health, just as there are different ways you can look at life. You choose the pathway you want to go down. For the patients who are in the new tower looking at that garden, or for the family members who are there for support, the pathways can represent where these people want the outcome of their healthcare—or of their loved ones—to be. The pathways all lead to wonderful physical environments, but they can represent something unique to each visitor.

Ed: Community became an increasingly important aspect of our design. It was important to us that the healing environment be surrounded by gardens, but we also wanted the gardens to be experienced as educational, even congregational opportunities for the community—a way to draw the community into this facility.

Emil: Greg and I have done prior projects for faith-based institutions, and we understand the importance of trying to embody the spirit of what a hospital is about in the design. It requires someone well-versed in taking features of a campus, elements of a faith and the roles and key attributes of a hospital’s mission to successfully bring them together. The goal is ultimately to blend the key elements of an institution’s faith intrinsically in the design concept.

The design also brings the gardens inside with the rooftop interior courtyard for the ICU.

Ed: We wanted to extend the idea of the healing gardens up to the waiting rooms for the patients and families that can not go outside. The gardens bring in some natural light and greenery, and are meant to give families some breaks from the stress they may experience. It was a natural place to put the garden that could be seen by the upper floors so that you aren’t simply looking down at a roof. There was something of interest out there, something that could be utilized by family members, something peaceful.

Considering the initial challenge was to design a tower for a pre-determined site, how do you feel you exceeded the client’s needs?

Ed: We looked at the entire site, the client’s long-term growth needs, how changes would impact visual access to the new tower and how the new tower could provide elegant views of the bay, downtown Miami and the old city of Coral Gables. Looking at all of these things gave us a different perspective on where to place the patient tower, and I think it opened the client’s eyes to new opportunities.

Our team did a wonderful job of presenting the concept. The client told us had they just seen our drawings, they would have not picked us because they did not understand what we were doing.

Once we had the opportunity to explain our reasons for the revised location, the light bulbs went off.

Greg: I am most proud of our ability to design not only a stunning and successful patient tower, but also the visual identity for the Hospital. From our design we supported its connection with the diverse community, studied the natural surroundings, including the unique colors of the bay, built upon the Hospital’s Catholic heritage, and ultimately improved Mercy for the future.

Mindy: I think the biggest thing our client saw was our holistic approach. All visitors have the same general experience, but people see it in many different ways. At each point we were looking at the design as moments—as opportunities to positively affect an experience. Those transitional points helped us carry ideas further, like bringing nature inside.

From there we expanded different levels of experience from public spaces all the way to the patient room. In a sense, we really have a story that meanders through the building.

Emil: To me, there is a critical elegance and what can be either a very simple story or a very complex one. You can take elements at face value, or you can talk about the pathways, for instance, what is along those pathways and where those pathways lead. Those are all simple things that can have extreme meaning when you take that little bit of time to really think about how things are laid out and what effect the design of a space can have on the people in it.

The Mercy story ties to what we are doing to make healthcare better, how we are trying to change healthcare, and how it is coming back to community health instead of the business of healthcare. Those are very simple, elegant things that add up to a beautiful project.


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Project Info

  • Client: Mercy Hospital Patient Tower
  • Location: Miami, FL, USA
  • Market: Healthcare Design
  • Services: Architecture, Interior Design, Planning
  • Team:
    • Edward L. Hengtgen, Jr., AIA, EDAC, LEED AP Principal-in-Charge, Project Manager
    • Luis J. Cano, EDAC, LEED AP Project Architect
    • Gregory J. Wieland, AIA Project Designer
    • Mindy Graves-Ajami, IIDA, EDAC, LEED AP Interior Designer
    • Emil A. Slavik, AIA, ACHA Senior Planner
    • J. Brent Hughes, AIA, EDAC, LEED AP Project Professional
    • Marc A. Sauvé Healthcare Strategist
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