“From the finishes to the layouts, everything was extremely outdated in the existing buildings,” says Lauren Rasys, GS&P interior designer and project coordinator. “The buildings themselves were also very old, so we had to deal with low ceilings and poor lighting, as well as HVAC and mechanical problems. But the overall layout of each building ultimately gave us some freedom to work with.”
Covering more than 25,000 square feet, the wide-ranging project involved the renovation of multiple spaces within the College, including extensive upgrades to the existing auditorium; the conversion of lab space into functional teaching classrooms; the creation of interaction areas and lounge spaces for students; and restroom upgrades. GS&P’s scope of work also encompassed a comprehensive wayfinding approach and a design that would incorporate branding and a new image into the renovated buildings.
Principal goals for the project included providing highly adaptable spaces that could easily transform from lecture mode to collaboration mode, and improved comfort within the classrooms to enhance performance and interaction among students and staff. Another key objective was incorporating technology that supported a variety of tools that students use within today’s learning environment.
“One of USF Health’s primary focus areas was the inclusion of technology,” says Rasys, “and there was no technology in the auditorium whatsoever. It was very 1970s and so out-of-date that the entire building required a complete gut and renovation before we could even think about anything else.”
In need of an extreme makeover, the College’s auditorium and its steeply sloped floor was one of the first areas to be addressed.
“The auditorium’s floor was previously ramped, so we replaced it with a more functional, multi-tiered approach,” says Rasys. “The building can now be set up as one massive lecture hall or divided into classrooms by using separation walls that automatically descend from the ceiling. The benefit of using tiered flooring, as opposed to keeping the existing slanted floor, is that it stops the separation walls at specific levels and helps separate each classroom.”
In addition to the tiered flooring and descending partitions, the auditorium’s demonstration area was in-filled to create a platform to replace an impractical existing pit that was previously used for teaching. These innovative adaptations allow for better sight lines and easier access for learning and teaching.
“It was extremely important to USF Health that we improve student engagement by providing those clear sight lines,” stresses Rasys. “Students can now clearly see who’s speaking, which automatically helps them stay involved. The auditorium is also set up for distancing learning, so not only can a guest speaker be seen on-screen at other campuses, but they can see the students as well. We wanted to incorporate as much interactive and distance learning into the auditorium as possible, and we worked closely with an AV consultant to make this happen.”
Power and data were also integrated into the auditorium’s table tops, as well as microphones that allow students’ questions to be clearly heard, even from the back of the auditorium.
Creating Flexible and High-tech Spaces
Also in need of a comprehensive overhaul was the College’s Group Learning department.
“The classrooms in Group Learning were originally set up in a lab-type atmosphere so they were very sterile,” says Rasys. “To maximize flexibility within the existing footprint, we took out every wall in that space and added operable partitions that divide a large space into smaller classrooms. Basically, one half of Group Learning has large classroom setups with partitions. The other half features very intimate classrooms that can be used for smaller classes or study groups.”
Mobile, ergonomic seating was utilized throughout the classrooms in order to minimize pressure points, support posture and promote student interaction. Tables that can easily be moved and rearranged were also used to maximize flexibility and support various learning and teaching styles. In between the classrooms, dynamic huddle and casual meeting spaces were incorporated into the design, allowing impromptu collaboration and study.
“The collaborative meeting spaces feature vibrant lounge furniture, and each meeting area is completely different,” says Rasys. “Some areas feature bench-style seating. Other spaces include colorful tables and chairs.”
Further improving the use of campus real estate, the GS&P team devised a design solution to turn lab space into high-tech classrooms featuring audio-visual equipment, computers and flat-screen televisions.
“The anatomy lab space needed a major facelift,” says Rasys. “There’s only so much you can do with a sterile environment like that. But we added color to the walls and the floors and greatly increased the technology in there, which makes it extremely different from the old lab setup.
“In the new space, there’s a camera above the instructor who’s using a cadaver to teach the students. This not only gives the students the opportunity to view the procedure on flat-screen TVs, but it also allows them to remain at their tables with their own cadavers, keeping the learning experience as interactive and hands-on as possible.”
Another of USF Health’s primary goals was the seamless incorporation of its logo throughout the interior environments to reinforce the school’s branding and identity.
“That was the fun part of the design,” says Rasys. “We came up with several different concepts on how best to feature their logo, and ultimately decided to incorporate it throughout the glass and wall graphics.”
The team also designed a complete wayfinding system that included directional and informational signage and graphics. Crisp patterns, oversized graphics and vibrant colors were used to motivate students to connect and get inspired.
“We’ve created a fun, comfortable and functional environment for students and teachers alike,” says Jacqui Russo, GS&P senior interior designer and principal of the corporate design team in Tampa. “It’s also a more supportive environment that makes everybody feel a little bit more special and more encouraged to collaborate because they’re in a creative environment. It’s a bonus for the instructors, too, because it gives them a fresh start with their students in a new setting that’s not drab or outdated.”
Once in dire need of functional and aesthetic upgrades, the newly renovated USF Health Morsani College of Medicine is now set to attract the world’s best medical students. With a vastly improved image that fully represents the national stature of its medical program, the College can proudly boast a world-class facility to host its world-class program.
“The College’s previous facilities had a vintage 1970s look and clear limitations,” says Stan Douglas, assistant vice president of operations and facilities management for USF Health. “We are thrilled that the renovations have not only created a dynamic, high-energy environment that will attract the best-of-the-best medical students, but also, a facility that supports the emerging, cutting-edge technologies of modern medical education.”