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Western Reserve Hospital

A nearby national park inspires the design of a unique healthcare campus

'Wow!' on every level... Beautiful design features."

The great American naturalist John Burroughs once wrote, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” That philosophy is among the driving forces behind the proposed design for Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Located on a heavily wooded site near Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the hospital and its campus incorporate a number of features from the surrounding area to create a tranquil environment for patients, hospital employees and visitors alike. The healthcare campus plan also links three neighboring towns, helping to create a greater sense of collaboration and shared interest between the communities. The resulting design conveys a vision of healthcare that is at one with the community while incorporating the therapeutic power of nature. 



Tell me about the origins of this project’s design.

Greg Wieland: The client, Western Reserve Healthcare Partners, wanted to develop a unique outlet for their healthcare services - one that would draw upon the elements of nature to create an enriched experience for patients, as well as employees and visitors. It was this vision, along with the distinctive features of the site and the surrounding area, which provided the impetus for the campus plan and facility design.

Why was the site selected, and what benefits did the location offer?

Greg: The boundaries of three communities overlapped on the site the client had selected, providing the opportunity to use the new healthcare campus as a link between them. The site also had a number of features such as an abundance of trees and rolling hills that made it appear to be a natural extension of nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park, an area which the three towns also shared by virtue of their proximity to the park. This allowed the proposed healthcare campus to further strengthen ties between the communities.

At the same time, we could use the elements of nature found in the area to create the kind of peaceful, healing environment the client envisioned for the new facility and extend it throughout the entire site.

How did the site influence the facility design?

Greg: Many of the components of both the facility design and the campus plan were inspired by the natural features of the area, including those found in nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Situated along the banks of the Cuyahoga River, the park features a diverse landscape of sandstone ledges, deep river gorges, dense forests, cultivated agricultural areas and wetlands. It is also filled with vestiges of its cultural history, from shelters constructed of American chestnut and locally quarried sandstone, to winding canal towpaths.

In terms of the hospital’s design, the curved wall that frames the entrance is comprised of stacked stone. Juxtaposed against wall planes of various shapes and materials such as brick and glass, this helps to create a form that alludes to the park’s cliffs, river gorges and waterfalls. The canopied drop-off area resembles that of a park lodge.

Brick, stone and wood are used predominantly throughout the facility to be harmonious with the surrounding area. If you look in the local towns, as well as in nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park, these are the primary materials used in many of the commercial and residential buildings - particularly in the more historic structures.

Stone, in particular, is also prevalent through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where towering rock walls are comprised of layer upon layer of shale, sandstone or other sedimentary rock.
Although the building design has a contemporary look, conveying the leading-edge patient care the facility would provide. It also incorporates historical elements, again drawing from the local area. For example, the brickwork is patterned in a way to resemble the lapboard siding of lodges in the local national and state parks.

It seems that design of the building’s exterior extends inside the building.

Greg: All elements of the building, inside and out, purposely draw from the natural surroundings to create a serene, calming environment. Just as we looked to the local area to influence our choice of exterior materials, we looked to nature to inform our choices on the inside of the building.

Natural materials are abundant throughout, with varieties of wood and stone used for the walls and floors. Elements of nature also influence many of the interior details. If you look at the wood panels on the walls of the reception area, the joint lines resemble the silhouettes of tree branches. Tree branches also form the key design element in the glass-etched stair railings. A large mural on the wall depicts colorful autumn leaves collected on a stream. Wall planes are often layered, alluding to rock walls that had been sheered off or eroded away by nature.

All of these components help capture and convey the natural beauty of the surrounding area.

By incorporating large spans of glass throughout the facility, including in the patient rooms, we also ensured that there would be abundant views of nature and natural light for patients, as well as for staff and visitors.

How did the natural surroundings impact the campus plan?

Greg: The site’s rolling hills and other features afforded us a number of opportunities to overcome the challenges associated with creating an optimal setting for a healthcare facility. An important consideration was to ensure the hospital would have a strong visual presence. The site sloped significantly so we located the hospital at the highest point, making it the most visible form when viewed from any of the adjacent roads.

Emulating the towpaths, streams and the river that meander through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, we also created roads lined with trees and other plant life that wind throughout the rolling site. The idea was to provide a visually pleasing, very calming entrance into the campus and on to the hospital. The overall effect is that of a lush park where visitors may just come to enjoy the surroundings, and not just because they need to go to the hospital.

However, one of the challenges was to accommodate surface parking for up to 1,500 cars, and provide easy pedestrian access to the hospital and any other buildings that might be located on the property. We used the site’s trees and other plant life to frame the parking areas and the walkways, making these more visually dominant than the paved surfaces.

In addition, by including a mix of diverse annuals and perennials in the plantscape, we provided for a complete color transformation each season to provide even greater visual appeal.

Even when masked by these natural amenities, didn’t the surface parking create potential water runoff issues?

Greg: The site sloped towards a residential area. Removing trees and paving surfaces to accommodate parking could very likely have created water runoff problems for local residents. To avoid that problem, we created a series of lakes that capture and retain excess runoff. They serve as beautiful, natural-looking water features throughout the site, harmoniously fitting in with the abundant lakes of the overall area.

The lakes are connected by canals that line the roadways and pathways throughout the site, mimicking the towpaths along the once water-filled canals in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Pedestrian bridges cross over the site’s waterways, much like they do in the park.

The lake system is also tied into that of the national park, further strengthening the management of water runoff in the entire area.

The plan seemed to evolve into a village concept. What was the driving force behind that?

Greg: The site was large enough to accommodate a variety of facilities not necessarily related to the hospital. With the boundaries of three towns overlapping this property, it made sense to propose ways to transform the site into a village center that could serve the local area, with the hospital as the starting point.

Our plan was developed to include various zones that could eventually accommodate a hotel, retail establishments and research facilities - all amenities that could serve the neighboring communities as well as people specifically using the hospital’s services.

Similar to how Cuyahoga Valley National Park has various areas identified by names, we would do the same with this site perhaps naming each specific zone after one of the lakes created on the property.

What do you find most gratifying about this project?

Greg: The natural environment has long been associated with healing of the mind, body and spirit. We were fortunate to have a site to work with that allowed us to incorporate so many natural elements into both the overall campus plan and hospital design. The connection with nature starts long before one arrives at the hospital. From the initial approach to the site and driving through its park-like setting, to the hospital’s inside spaces which incorporate beautiful forms and materials found in the surrounding area, the entire experience is about nature.


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Project Info

  • Client: Western Reserve Healthcare Partners, Welty Building Company, Ltd.
  • Location: Cuyahoga Falls, OH, USA
  • Market: Healthcare Design
  • Services: Architecture, Engineering, Interior Design, Planning, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP), Structural Engineering
  • Team:
    • Emil A. Slavik, AIA, ACHA Principal-in-Charge, Project Manager
    • Gregory J. Wieland, AIA Project Designer
    • J. Brent Hughes, AIA, NCARB, EDAC, LEED AP Project Professional
    • Jevon C. Ritchey, AIA, LEED AP Project Coordinator
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