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Art Plays Starring Role

Art Plays Starring Role At Kaiser Permanente’s New Oregon Hospital

The importance of artwork in the healthcare environment and its role in the healing process has become more widely accepted over the years. But that still doesn’t mean it’s always part of early design discussions.

Rather, art programs are often addressed later on in the project schedule, maybe even after the drywall is up, leaving art consultants and interior designers to scramble to find appropriate pieces that fit on existing walls and ceilings.

It’s a practice that Janelle Baglien, president, Studio Art Direct (Portland, Ore.), calls “plunk art.” “It’s when the building’s all done and somebody says ‘oh, we have to plunk something here.’”

When art programming, themes, and budgets can be established early on, the benefits can be plentiful, including site-specific installations, color palettes, and works that support the overall interior design package.

At Kaiser Permanente’s new Westside Medical Center, in Hillsboro, Ore., the art program was anything but an afterthought as the owner set out to “make the best patient environment through the use of such elements as daylighting, natural views, and outdoor awareness,” says Willy Paul, executive director, national facilities services northwest, Kaiser Permanente. “Art also plays a big part.”

Kaiser established an overarching theme, “tranquil relief through nature,” to help guide the design of its 38th hospital, which includes a 126-bed hospital and 110,000-square foot medical office building (MOB). Then it hired Baglien early on to procure an art program with AECOM (Minneapolis), which handled the architecture and interior design. Themes were created for each floor, such as forests, water, wildflowers, and mountains/long-distance views, with corresponding wall colors, flooring, carpeting, and artwork.

Going to great lengths

With guidelines in hand, Baglien began reaching out to the regional art community to commission pieces. One of those involved creating a 1,200-pound glass sculpture of gingko leaves to hang under a skylight in the hospital’s glass rotunda.

The sculpture took a year to build and involved several steps, including building a full-scale mock-up in an art studio. Then the internal steel framework of leaves and branches was created in three different pieces and assembled on-site, where its kiln-fired glass leaves in varying shades of green were affixed. The final piece measures 16 feet high and 8 feet wide.

Liza Kapisak, associate, interior project designer, AECOM (Minneapolis), says the planning allowed designers to work with the construction team to install additional supports in the skylight to support the piece. “We saved time and money by doing it early on in the process,” she says.

That planning process would also benefit coordination efforts with other artists on the project. For example, sketches were reviewed by the design team and suggestions about color and tone were made to support the project’s palette. “We could make tweaks that you can’t always make until after the fact,” Kapisak says.

There was also time to plan the placement of lighting equipment and structural supports in the walls during the construction phase, resulting in properly illuminated artwork that’s integrated into the architecture.

The facility’s wayfinding program also benefited by coordinating themes between the hospital and MOB. For example, the hospital’s labor and delivery department features colors and imagery similar to the women’s clinic in the MOB. Complementary imagery was also planned for the walls behind the nurses’ stations and on panels next to the doors of exam rooms.

“It gives a sense of calm because you’re seeing the same thing,” Kapisak says.

The art program even extends outside to the pedestrian-friendly campus, where statues of animals and a glass waterfall are incorporated into the landscaping. “You want to start the calming and decompression process before someone even walks in the door,” Baglien says. “So as they’re driving into the parking structure, there’s a beautiful glass wall that sparkles in the sunlight and looks like water.”

Art that stands out

Kaiser Permanente’s Westside Medical Center opened in August with 975 works of art—only 35 of which are off-the-shelf. In addition, the program uses all regional artists from Oregon and Washington states.

Technology also plays a starring role in the art program, including a 14-minute loop of imagery designed to play on monitors in the waiting rooms. Patients can take a video tour of the facility’s art program on their in-room consoles.

Visitors aren’t left out, either. On the first floor in the main corridor connecting the hospital to the MOB, an electronic touch screen enables guests to write a message on a gingko leaf that’s electronically delivered to a smart board in the patient’s room.

Baglien says she focused on using a range of artwork with a fine art bend, including time-lapse photography and abstract images. More representational pieces are located in the patient rooms, including giclee prints on canvas, while the more abstract ones can be found in the main corridors, lobbies, and public spaces.

“I think that people appreciate an artist's unique interpretation of something that we see every day,” Baglien says. “Pushing the envelope artistically and towards abstraction means it doesn’t get boring over the long haul.”

For more on Kaiser Permanente’s Westside Medical Center, check out HCD’s November issue or read "Kaiser Permanente Puts Its Template To The Test In Oregon."

Project source list:

Completion date: August 2012

Opening date: August 6, 2013

Owner: Kaiser Permanente

Architecture and interior design: AECOM

Contracting: Andersen Construction

Engineering: m+nlb (Mazzetti Nash Lipsey Burch)

Construction: Andersen Construction

Written on November 5, 2013 by Anne DiNardo, Senior Editor. She can be reached at

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