The University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital scored big with jurors for a variety of reasons: a curvilinear plan that supports onstage/offstage circulation, parent-only respite rooms, building orientation to maximize outdoor views, and pursuit of LEED Silver certification. But one feature stood out among the rest: a “press box” on the rooftop that affords patients and their families a view inside Kinnick Stadium (home of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes football team).

The penthouse space—and its bird’s-eye view of home games—not only provides patients with a positive distraction during their hospital stays, it also creates a connection to the community. Fans have even instituted a tradition of turning toward the hospital to wave to patients in the box at the end of each game’s first quarter.

The 14-story, 507,000-square-foot hospital, which opened in February 2017, further improves the patient experience by bringing all the hospital’s pediatric services, which were previously scattered across the university’s campus in Iowa City, Iowa, under one roof with a 28-bed PICU, eight ORs, a 32-bed NICU, two 28-bed med/surg units, an infusion and dialysis center, and a pediatric cancer center.

Delivering the new campus landmark didn’t come without challenges, though, including limited site availability and the need to maintain connectivity to the existing hospital for shared support services.

The solutions included demolishing an existing hospital parking structure and replacing it with four underground parking levels, which created room for a ground-level plaza and park at the hospital entrance. The new building itself adjoins the existing hospital on six levels to align certain departments, such as neonatal and surgical services, to take advantage of existing support services.

The project was submitted by CBRE/Heery. Here, Scott Hansche, managing director at the firm, shares his perspective on how some of the jury’s favorite design elements were achieved.

Healthcare Design: How did the press box become a worthwhile endeavor on the project and what challenges did you encounter achieving it?

Scott Hansche: University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) and the University of Iowa athletic department have a longstanding relationship. Various programs have been developed over the years, including the UI Kid Captain, through which a current or past pediatric patient is recognized at each home football game on the field. As the conceptual building mass and site location of the new children’s tower were developed, it became apparent that the adjacency to Kinnick Stadium could be further strengthened with direct views into the stadium. The top floor of the building was an obvious vantage point, and studies were completed to identify the best views and sight lines. The only real challenge was balancing the extensive mechanical area needs with the desired amenity spaces. By locating the mechanical space in the center of the top level, the perimeter was available to encompass numerous special spaces, including the press box.

What was the inspiration for the building’s curvilinear shape and how did it support operational efficiencies and circulation throughout the building?

Hansche: The Administrative Steering Committee was seeking a design statement to contrast the existing monolithic, orthogonal precast hospital. Project designer Foster + Partners proposed a sleek, curvilinear metal-and-glass building as a solution that uses the existing hospital as a backdrop and introduces a forward-looking aesthetic. The oval shape and width of the tower allows operational efficiencies by creating onstage and offstage circulation systems and zones. The core of the building is used for patient, staff, and service movements, plus various offstage support spaces, while the surrounding onstage circulation ring provides easy access for families and visitors to all patient rooms. The curved circulation system also improves acoustics throughout the patient units and creates a noninstitutional feel by eliminating long, straight, monotonous corridors that tend to reverberate noise.

Eight light wells are placed sequentially around the perimeter to infuse daylight in the core of the floor plan. These slots in the exterior façade also provide outdoor views for all as they move privately through the internal corridors. Seasons, weather, and even hourly sun positions change the feel of the entire floor as time passes.

Creating visual connectivity to the outdoors was another critical piece of the design. How did the team work to ensure it was executed as desired?

Hansche: Evidence-based design has proven that connection to the outdoors enables a patient to recover and heal more quickly. Additionally, people in Iowa are accustomed to easy access to green space and the surrounding landscape. Integration of nature into urban spaces is commonplace and expected. The campus master plan [being executed through this project] sought to bring the green space up from the nearby river and create a park in the center of what had developed into an urban hardscape. The children’s hospital enabled the park to be built.

The design team worked together to execute a successful connection to the outdoors by recognizing it was a driving principal of the project. All disciplines sought to find ways to better meet the aspiration for daylight, views, and operational objectives while also accommodating their own focused strategies. Architects maximized window sizes in patient care areas and created multistory floor-to-ceiling glazing in public areas. The landscape architects designed the landscape to inspire interest from all levels of the building as well as from within the park at grade. Art, playground equipment, and dining spaces are used to activate both interior and exterior spaces simultaneously. Review of the design with patients, families, and staff reinforced the necessity of connection to Iowa and the surrounding landscape as a vital theme.

This project is steeped in features that focus on the family, as well. Why was it so important to include these spaces?

Hansche: Our patient- and family-oriented design guidelines begin in the patient room. Key elements make the space as much like home as possible and allow families to pursue their outside needs in this environment. A sleeper sofa for two, dedicated work counter, separate family TV, and a locking wardrobe were among many features of the typical patient room. However, getting out of the room is part of the healing process, too. Parents need space to take a break, emotionally and physically. Parent respite rooms offer a quiet, daylit area for private time and re-energizing. There are also exercise rooms, public gardens, family kitchens, and other spaces to create a well-rounded set of provisions for families. The overarching goal was to normalize life as much as possible for the patients and families coping with the stress of treatment.

For more on the 2018 Showcase Winners, check out HCD’s August issue.

Anne DiNardo is executive editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at