Photo © Doug J. Scott

St. Anthony Hospital

ZGF Architects LLP

Gig Harbor, Washington

Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects’ hospital and medical office building avoids an institutional look through natural materials and evidence-based design.

By Suzanne Stephens

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In designing St. Anthony, a privately funded hospital in the wooded area outside Seattle, the architects at Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF) asked themselves, “What would you want to see in a five-star hotel?” says ZGF interior designer, Anita Rossen. The comparison of hospitals to hotels is not so off-base: Evidence-based design principles now influencing the architecture of health-care facilities have been taking cues from the hospitality industry [record, August 2009, page 73]. While the research has benefited from hotel studies focused on reducing stress among travelers, the motive of the hospitals is not to convince inhabitants to stay longer at the lodge. By trying to create a hotel-like atmosphere with single-bed rooms, ample views of the outdoors, indirect lighting, soft colors, and textured fabrics, health-care facilities such as St. Anthony are speeding recovery time and shortening the stay of their patients.

Certain hospital features cannot be forsaken entirely — for example, the extensive use of washable floors instead of carpeting. Nevertheless, by adhering to evidence-based design findings, St. Anthony can claim an average stay of 2.6 days for its patients.


ZGF, based in Portland, Oregon, as well as Seattle, was hired when the client, the Franciscan Health System (FHS), felt it should venture into a remote wooded peninsula to provide medical care to a population of 120,000. The FHS acquired 38 acres to accommodate a 256,000-square-foot, full-service hospital with 80 beds. Adjoining it is the 93,000-square-foot Milgard Medical Pavilion, which also includes the Jane Thompson Russell Cancer Care Center. While FHS’s parent group, Catholic Health Initiatives, undertook the funding for the $371-per-square-foot construction cost of the hospital, a developer, Frauenshuh Healthcare Real Estate Solutions, built the $172-per-square-foot medical office building. Nestled against a slope, it is connected to the main hospital by an enclosed pedestrian bridge and retains much of the hospital’s noninstitutional architectural vocabulary.


In designing the architecture and interiors of the hospital, the notion of “a walk in the woods” became a conceptual reference point. When arriving at St. Anthony, visitors encounter natural materials — such as quartzite stone tiles combined with a boak-wood veneer that clads the exterior walls of the steel-framed structure.

The L-shaped hospital sits on a slope so that those entering the lobby find themselves on a shiplike mezzanine overlooking a sitting area 14 feet below, where a double-height window wall opens onto a healing garden. In the garden, local planting, sculpture, a pond, and an outdoor café offer additional interaction with the outdoors.

Inside, the architects thought of designing the various spaces to evoke natural features, such as a glade or a clearing in the woods by means of details, materials, and lighting. Certain elements intentionally allude to the fishing culture of Gig Harbor. “We decided against literal motifs such as netting or anchors,” says Allyn Stellmacher, ZGF design partner. Instead, ZGF opted for more abstract references, such as sail-shaped translucent glass canopies at the hospital’s entrance.

The inclusion of wood paneling, stone fireplaces, and paintings and sculptures by local artists in public areas adds to the residential quality and the regional tone of the spaces. On top of that, the architects sited the hospital to take advantage of sun angles in the changing seasons so that natural illumination via skylights and windows (including ones placed at the ends of corridors) could cut down on energy expenditure. Such light sources also help provide patients and visitors with a sense of orientation, avoiding the clutter of signs common to hospitals.

While the architects do make use of fluorescent lighting, they have sought to mitigate its glare and deathly green tinge through a mix of cove lighting and other forms of indirect illumination. Similarly, they cut away acoustical-tiled ceilings at the edges to create reveals for lighting, and in certain public places have hung wood-slat ceilings to filter the light and buffer the sound.

Because of cost, vinyl floors appear more often than the more durable, less potentially toxic rubber flooring. Although ZGF notes that vinyl may not win green points, the design incorporates other means of promoting a sustainable environment — for example, the storm-water catchment system, as well as a storm-water detention pond and filtration system. Even the pond in the healing garden makes use of recycled water. Other energy-saving measures include a HVAC heat-recovery system that recycles heat generated from equipment.


With regard to Modern hospital design, Alvar Aalto’s Paimio Sanatorium (1933), in a forest in Finland, has long served as a design paradigm owing to its serenely spectral white volumes, interior spaces filled with daylight, and the integration of the building block with cantilevered outdoor balconies. St. Anthony shows a similar desire to connect to nature and make use of daylight, albeit without necessarily depending on Aalto’s clinically white (with splashes of color) surfaces. Interestingly, St. Anthony’s natural materials, rugged exterior surfaces, massing, outdoor stairs, and organization around a common space recalls the later, softer Modernism seen in Aalto’s Säynätsalo Town Hall (1952). The connections to both of these significant works explain why St. Anthony seems to bring together both the hygienic and the humane. Although it is not quite like a hotel (limited carpeting, no lamp shades, and too many metal machines), you might well want to stay more than average time of 2.6 days.

Total construction cost:
March 2009 (St. Anthony); December 2008 (Milgard Medical Pavilion)

Gross square footage:
256,000 square feet (St. Anthony); 93,000 square feet (Milgard Medical Pavilion)

ZGF Architects LLP
925 Fourth Avenue
Suite 2400
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: 206-623-9414
Fax: 206-623-7868


October 2010
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