Alive is the culmination of several years of collaboration between Hayes Green Beach Hospital and the local community in Charlotte, Michigan, to develop an innovative, experiential health and wellness concept. Born out of a fairly simple need for the local hospital to expand medical services, Alive is an integrated approach to healthcare that seeks to promote true lifestyle change.

While some traditional hospital services are located within the new facility, its founders and numerous supporters will tell you that Alive is first and foremost a unique experience. And the built environment is a direct response to the experiences that will be created there.

The facility houses a number of the components we’ve come to expect in a wellness facility, like state-of-the-art exercise equipment and indoor walking paths. But these are just components of a much more comprehensive program that recognizes there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to good health.

Extensive research helped to identify some of the most common barriers to goal achievement, allowing the 73,000-square-foot facility to be designed with those in mind. Personal guides, called “creationaires,” are available to develop member profiles that identify broad life goals, uncover real barriers to meeting those goals, and then define individualized plans that may or may not incorporate a visit to the gym as the best approach for achieving greater health and wellbeing.


A big opportunity for a small community
Charlotte is a small town with a population of less than 10,000. Larger communities typically address the gamut of needs addressed by Alive through a whole host of individual opportunities: health clubs, rehab clinics, spas, indoor walking trails at the YMCA, healthy cooking classes at the local community college, etc.

But Alive not only offers a holistic “mind, body, soul” approach to wellness, it leverages the infrastructure of a single facility to afford this small community a comprehensive collection of services that simply couldn’t be supported on a one-off basis. A great but simple example is the indoor walking trail, available free of charge to anyone in the community. Few if any other indoor walking trails or opportunities exist in Charlotte—not even an indoor mall.


Breaking down barriers
Critical to the success of Alive will be the ability to break down common barriers to achieving health and wellbeing. Much work has gone into designing the facility, training staff, and developing programming that helps people overcome the obstacles to getting—and staying—healthy. For example:

  • Alive connects clinical rehab to full recovery. Many people fail to fully recover from a surgery—such as knee replacement—because they lack the diligence and/or support to continue exercises after their medically covered physical therapy. With Alive, instead of leaving rehab with a list of exercises to continue “on your own,” a patient transitions from clinical rehab through “Bridge” to receive continued support for a full recovery. At the appropriate point in time, the patient can be mainstreamed into an ongoing fitness program to maintain a healthy lifestyle. All of this occurs within a single, cohesive program.
  • Alive addresses the stigma associated with a variety of women’s health issues in novel and inviting ways. Pairing diagnostic or clinical procedures, such as a mammogram, with a spa treatment offers women an opportunity to turn an oft-dreaded activity into a social event. Breast cancer survivor yoga classes bring together women with a common bond who might avoid a regular class for a variety of reasons.
  • In future phases, Alive will not only address childcare, it will provide specially designed programming for kids in keeping with their overall mission of promoting health and wellness.
  • An onsite café (“Nourish”) and demonstration kitchen (“Relish”) offer the opportunity to pull the family together for a healthy meal after a workout, walk, educational program, or even participation in the cooking of the meal.
  • With its one-size-doesn’t-fit all philosophy, Alive strives to attract anyone and everyone in the community, regardless of age, size, level of fitness, etc. Whether an individual desires solitude or craves social interaction; whether the musical interests are classical or hip-hop; whether the goal is to run a marathon or plant a garden—Alive brings together a full spectrum of sights, sounds, and healthy opportunities to appeal to all.

Adaptive reuse
The Alive site is located approximately six-tenths of a mile from Courthouse Square in Charlotte, connecting it to the community’s core services. Location of the facility in an unoccupied grocery store building has provided the opportunity to transform an otherwise abandoned site into a valuable community asset envisioned as a prototype for other communities.  

The project also created hundreds of temporary construction jobs and when all phases are completed, will result in more than 30 new permanent jobs.

The strategic relocation of services related to health and wellness from the landlocked hospital campus to the new facility supports Alive’s mission of integrating hospital and wellness services, while also freeing space for the hospital to make improvements on its main campus. More than 80% of the project square footage reuses the existing grocery store building—largely maintaining existing walls, roofs, structural elements, floor slabs, and parking. Repurposed materials, such as old siding from demolished barns, and finishes featuring recycled content, such as cork flooring, support green design.

A grant with a state agency and a not-for-profit group provided funds that helped turn approximately five acres of the site into a wildlife habitat called the “Preserve,” featuring native vegetation and a native plant mix. Stormwater is being managed through newly created bioswales and native plants.

Priority has been placed on introducing daylight and exterior views into as many spaces as practically and clinically feasible. The design incorporates new skylights, clerestories, and exterior windows into the existing building envelope, and windows into nearly every occupant space in the newly constructed additions.

Small additions to the exterior of the building will accommodate new departments. Façade improvements and redevelopment of the parking lots will create a new exterior image for the building.

A visitor to Alive will experience a unique combination of color, light, and textures as they are guided down a “path” to wellbeing. A well-organized collection of aptly named spaces will provide a full gamut of medical, diagnostic, fitness, rehabilitation, dietary, and related services. The building, staff, and experiences are designed to be alive, fluid, and changing. From glass walls that bring in sunlight, to music, water, the sounds of nature, and natural foliage, Alive is designed to engage all of the senses.

A phased approach
Phase 1 of the project, completed in November of 2011, focuses on the barriers of transitioning from surgery or medical issues back to health, women’s clinical and preventive care, community wellness opportunities, and dietary issues. The “Empower” and “Bridge” areas of the facility address outpatient rehab and transitional workout needs. “Journey,” a women’s health center, provides an intimate, private haven for women featuring comfortable seating, a fireplace, and a retail area. “Soar” provides flexible gymnasiu
m space that can support anything from a pick-up basketball game to a community dance.

“Nourish” incorporates a café and “Relish,” a demonstration kitchen where healthy cooking techniques can be learned and balanced meals enjoyed as a part of the overall Alive experience. “Ponder” offers contemplative space for mental getaways, further providing a balanced approach to overall health.

Later phases of the project will include an extensive youth area featuring an experiential play structure among other unique learning opportunities, an outdoor walking trail, conference space, integrated medical services, a community garden, and expanded fitness areas.  

The next phase is set to begin construction in the spring of 2012, commensurate with the success of current fundraising efforts.

Creative financing
Supporters of Alive have an additional reason to believe that this integrated approach to health and wellbeing is destined for success: community support. The facility is a truly collaborative effort spearheaded by Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital with participation by numerous community groups, business leaders, government officials, and individuals. Funding for the $15.5 million project is coming from a variety of sources, including the community.

The initial $10 million allocated by Hayes Green Beach was made possible in part by use of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Program 242, which offers affordable financing for hospitals and provided an opportunity not only to refinance debt from the hospital, but to finance the clinical areas of the new facility.

The community has an ambitious effort underway to create awareness and contributions for what supporters hope will become a destination facility that sets a new standard for creating and sustaining healthy lifestyles.

David Johnson, AIA, EDAC, is Design Principal for the Alive project and can be reached at Michael Speck, AIA, is Project Manager for the
Al!ve project and can be reached at They both work for Johnson Johnson Crabtree Architects P.C. and David E. Johnson Architect in Nashville.