Expectations for the Lunder Building—a multifunctional structure smack in the middle of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston—were high from the start. A good portion of its services needed to be sited underground. Outdoor views had to be maximized. The hospital wanted same-handed, single-bed rooms, procedure rooms, a connection to adjacent buildings, loading dock, and more. And, of course, meeting strict sustainability requirements was a must.

“Just figuring out how to make it all work, for all of these requirements to live together, was a real challenge,” says Joan Saba, a partner with NBBJ’s New York office, which handled the project. “The Lunder Building doesn’t have a front door. It’s all about connections and enabling the rest of the campus.”

The new LEED Gold-certified building does an admirable job, and the HEALTHCARE DESIGN Architectural and Interior Design Showcase jury took notice. “The creative placement and orientation of the architecture to fit within the tight urban zone—as well as blend with the existing Boston skyline—are quite sophisticated and seamless,” says juror Laurie Placinski, interior project designer for Progressive AE.

Several of the jurors were especially impressed with the warmth and feeling of openness in the subterranean radiation oncology suite, as well as the creative solutions for offering access to green space.

Saba is particularly proud of her firm’s approach to laying out the patient rooms. “We were faced with five floors of inpatient beds,” she explains. “These patients are really, really sick. It was the hospital’s neurological patients, including an ICU, and medical oncology patients. The square floor plate on this restrictive site wasn’t conducive to creating efficiency, getting natural light, or planning circulation that’s good for the staff.”

The solution: “We cracked open the square and shifted it; it became like a Z-shaped plan,” Saba says. “It ended up being an incredible solution to a tricky problem, because now a number of patient rooms get an outside view by looking through the glass, into the indoor atrium, and then to the outside, including an external garden.”

She and her team did numerous calculations and conducted research on access to natural light during different times of day to meet and exceed state codes.

The hospital worked with NBBJ very closely throughout the project, Saba says: “It’s at the top of its game, number one in U.S. News & World Report’s list of America’s Best Hospitals, and they were constantly pushing themselves to be better. That was really refreshing.”

Together, the design team engaged in a ton of modeling and three phases of mock-ups. “Once the building was enclosed, we took a handful of rooms and fast-tracked them so we could do final tweaks,” she says. “So much time elapses from when you document to when you occupy, so this gave us a chance to fine-tune one more time before they rolled out 150 patient rooms and 28 ORs. The process involved everyone, the staff and facilities, and it was profound. We found out so much.”

Kristin D. Zeit can be reached at kzeit@vendomegrp.com.