Located in Brooklyn’s historic Park Slope neighborhood, the new Center for Community Health (CCH), part of NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, sits among the area’s classic brownstones. A response to the borough’s increasing shift to an ambulatory healthcare landscape, the new facility marks the hospital’s “commitment to a healthier Brooklyn,” by creating a state-of-the-art facility in residents’ own backyard, says David Faren, corporate director of facilities for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. For far too long, Faren says, Brooklynites were traveling to Manhattan to meet their healthcare needs. “More accessible care will improve community health by enabling patients to diagnose and treat illnesses earlier in the course of disease,” he says.

The new outpatient facility, located across the street from the existing hospital, also offered an opportunity to decamp some of the hospital’s services to the new health center, which would free up space to update its aging inpatient facilities. Furthermore, NewYork-Presbyterian could better meet the neighborhood’s ambulatory needs, moving services from aging townhomes that were serving as doctor’s offices to a new 400,000-square-foot facility with 12 ambulatory surgery suites; a cancer center with infusion; diagnostic imaging center; and services including cardiology, digestive disease care, and orthopedics.

“This was an opportunity to provide much better quality for patients and staff,” says Steven Wright, associate principal at Perkins Eastman (New York), the firm behind the architecture and interior design.

In 2012, NewYork-Presbyterian began planning the new seven-story project (the facility would mark the borough’s largest when it opened in March 2021). But first, the project faced several challenging site constraints, says Cristobal Mayendia, principal at Perkins Eastman (New York). For starters, the desired program would call for a large facility. However, zoning limitations governing height, setbacks, and building bulk required the design team to ask for a variance to accommodate the building volume needed to meet the program, Mayendia says.

Furthermore, the plan needed to accommodate existing buildings on the site, including seven townhomes and an open parking lot. There also was pushback from Brooklyn residents, who feared a large medical building would overshadow the neighborhood’s smaller-scale brownstones. “There was huge opposition to the project because of its size,” says Mayendia.

Taking into consideration all of these issues, the project team set out to deliver a building that felt “friendly to the community, that made sense in the site, and that was contextual and as welcoming as possible,” he says.

Site specifics
Working directly with the community through outreach and regular meetings, the design team looked to the neighborhood itself to inform the design. “We did extensive research of the existing structures in the neighborhood to try to understand how they’re detailed, what tonality they have, the colors, [and] materials,” says Mayendia. Through that research, the design team developed a language to guide the architecture called “updated traditional,” a modern style that adopts some of the scale of traditional structures such as vertical windows, deep shadow lines, articulation around the windows, and jointing striations.

To accommodate the townhouses that remained on the site, the new building was configured in a U-shape with the clinical and treatment areas housed in the arms of the “U” on the west and east sides of the building, with patient waiting areas in the center of the floors. Then, to help break down the building scale, the design team utilized material changes, details, and lines so that the exterior of the outpatient facility would appear more as a series of individual blocks than one massive structure.

Further reducing the facility’s impact on nearby residential areas, the bulk of the building was concentrated in the middle of the block on Sixth Street and then stepped down on its Eighth Avenue and Fifth Street sides to reflect the neighborhood’s sloped streets and townhouse scale.

While addressing the overall architecture, the project team also had discussions with the community on the traffic flow to and from the site. “Originally, the plan was to be able to drive straight through onto Fifth Street, but the community pushed back against that idea because they didn’t want any hospital traffic on that road,” says Wright. Residents also opposed a planned entrance on Eighth Avenue because they didn’t want the hospital functions facing that direction, Mayendia adds.

The solution was to remove the additional entrance on the avenue side of the building and instead create one main entrance, called a motor lobby, for pedestrian and motor traffic on Sixth Street, with cars coming in and out this one side, Wright says. To make the space feel approachable and less like a garage, the project team decided to turn it into an extension of the center’s main double-height lobby, covering a portion of the ceiling in the same warm wood-like material found inside the building and installing a colorful, mosaic-like mural, “Colors of the Neighborhood,” near the entrance. “[We decided] we’re going to make a beautiful lobby, but it’s going to extend to the outside and it’s going to, in a way, reach out to the community through this piece,” Mayendia says.

Interior features
Inside the entrance, a spacious lobby greets patients and visitors along with a café, patient education center, conference rooms, and light-filled waiting areas on the ground floor. Ambassadors assist patients upon arrival by checking them in using digital kiosks and then guiding them to the elevators or the turnstile (if taking the stairs connecting to the first floor), where patients are greeted by another ambassador at their destination floor.

The building’s lower level houses gastrointestinal care and special procedures along with valet parking, which takes up an entire underground level. Imaging and pre-admission testing are located on the first floor, cardiology and pre- and post-surgery on the second, a surgery suite on the third, orthopedics on the fourth, and the cancer center and infusion
department composing the sixth floor. The seventh floor is dedicated to mechanical.

Guided by the client’s request for a sophisticated and timeless approach, interior designer Christina Peters, a senior associate at Perkins Eastman (New York), says the overall concept for the interior design references an “urban park” theme using nature-inspired materials and hues, along with the colors and vibrancy of the Park Slope community. Materials include large-scale porcelain tile and terrazzo flooring in the lobby; wood-like laminate wall panels on the ceiling, hallway walls, and accent walls in clinical areas; and luxury vinyl tile in key areas such as conference rooms and community spaces.

Color is presented mostly through the furniture and artwork, which includes pieces from Brooklyn-based artists to further connect the facility and the community. “The color palette consists of mainly warm and cool neutral colors for the base finishes, with wood tones to give it warmth throughout,” Peters says.

Evolving setting
The project experienced a change of ownership in 2016 when New York Methodist Hospital became part of the NewYork-Presbyterian system. “New York Methodist Hospital had a longstanding relationship with NewYork-Presbyterian,” says Wright. As a result, the project was paused for a few months so the new owner could undertake an audit.

That led to some last-minute program changes, including the addition of a pharmacy in the sixth-floor infusion center to increase the profile of the cancer program as well as a dedicated pediatric suite within the surgery area for additional security and to improve the patient experience. “That entailed us moving a few program pieces around the building, such as ancillary services in the surgery suite, and then creating two separate entrances, one for children and one for adults, into the pre- and post-surgery area,” Wright says. Next up is the completion of a women’s center in shell space on the fifth floor and part of the third.

Despite the challenges, the design team says it was able to deliver a facility that serves the needs of both the client and the community. “It’s a highly modern building with the latest medical technology, and yet the building is able to fit well in a historical neighborhood,”
Mayendia says.

Joann Plockova is a freelance writer based between Jupiter, Fla., and Prague, Czech Republic. She can be reached at joann.plockova@gmail.com.