The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion deliver integrated medical care for children and obstetrical services for women in a project that’s thoroughly reflective of its home in Charleston, S.C. Completed in January, the 625,000-square-foot building responds to a range of complex needs for its varied patient populations as well as visiting family members and staff.

Jurors were impressed not only with the thoughtful design elements that responded to those requirements but with how the environment immerses building users in a rich, cultural landscape inspired by “Stories of the Lowcountry” that communicate the unique flavor of the region through numerous layers of art and graphics. The project was submitted by Perkins and Will (New York and Atlanta) and McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture (Charleston). Here, lead designers Carolyn BaRoss, principal at Perkins and Will, and Aiko Tanabe, associate at Perkins and Will (both of New York), and Randy Maxwell, senior associate at Perkins and Will (Atlanta), share their perspectives on some of the design elements most appreciated by the jury.

Healthcare Design: The project is very sensitive to the needs of all children, including those with autism or other sensory issues. How did you work to respond to the full sensory experience?

Carolyn BaRoss: The design team met regularly with the MUSC Patient Family Advisory Council throughout the design process. The meaningful involvement of family volunteers for this project was extraordinary. This council included family members whose children are on the [autism] spectrum and who were able to convey experiential concerns and help inform a holistic approach to the operational and design solutions. We incorporated a full-sensory design response, including considerations for scale, travel paths, creating predictability, and providing control over equipment and lighting that may trigger a negative response throughout spaces a child would experience during care.

MUSC clinical representatives attended these council design meetings and described firsthand experiences of needing to meet children in their cars in the parking garage because they were triggered before entering the existing facility. We heard from a doctor who had already modified an MUSC adult emergency department treatment space to be more spectrum friendly with reduced visual clutter, lighting, and acoustical considerations. Betsy McMillan, director of the MUSC Child Life program, was integral to the success of the design. In addition to the abovementioned solutions, she worked with us to include a sensory room in a Child Life playroom that would be supplemental to portable sensory equipment that is used bedside.

Share with us your approach to the impressively integrated art program.

BaRoss: The design team worked with the clinical leadership and Patient Family Advisory Council to imagine the building’s conceptual theme, “Stories of the Lowcountry.” These ideas informed the interior design as well as a framework of thematic walls and destinations to enhance wayfinding and create visual interest. Working with MUSC’s curators, with connections to the local arts community, we reviewed ideas with an art committee and identified a diverse range of work that would be appealing to all ages.
Because the budget was limited, we embraced digital printing technology and integrated these commissioned works into architectural materials that were already specified for the project—for example, a glass partition with an interlayer, a high-impact wall protection wainscot, and plastic laminate wall panels. We looked at ways to meaningfully integrate artwork and meet the budget.

Considering there is much environmental and cultural inspiration in Charleston and the Lowcountry, the MUSC client and design team were determined to remain authentic to the place and integrate artwork by local artists and craftspeople. We created an art location plan that would enable MUSC to add artwork (with an art committee’s review) over time or through philanthropy for the pieces that were not part of the base job. The art committee continues to work with the design team to further enhance the spaces throughout, especially those to delight the patients.

The building is steeped in the local vernacular. What was the design process for making the project feel so thoroughly at home?

Aiko Tanabe: The surrounding marshland, waterways, beaches, and wildlife combined with the charm, architecture, gardens, and culture of Charleston inspired the team to create a rich framework of metaphoric and iconic imagery.

Each floor, with its own unique identity, is inspired by the Lowcountry with color and art that also aid in wayfinding. Each is a confluence of place, people, and culture. … The interior planning and design embrace the unique site and enhance the connections to the waterfront and views of Charleston. Fractal-patterned, fused glass artwork in the chapel is of Angel Oak, the 400-year-old live oak that is nearby. The swirling patterns on the terrazzo dividers are inspired by the work of the late Philip Simmons, a legendary Charleston blacksmith and ironwork artisan.

Randy Maxwell: [On the exterior,] there are moments of wonder and delight that reflect the building’s distinct program. Colored glass playfully highlights neutral tones of sweetgrass as well as blues and greens of sea and sky, melding the exterior and interior color and finish palettes. They also highlight where the façade encloses public or patient- and family-focused areas.

Our jury applauded the thought that went into providing staff members thoughtful space to work and relax, particularly the roof terrace. How did you identify this “found space” and make the most of it?

Tanabe: Many of the design solutions in this project grew out of MUSC clinical leadership’s ability to articulate challenges and dreams, and the issue of solving staff emotional burnout was introduced. While imagining the Child Life roof play deck we heard a request for a small area for staff to find respite outdoors. The roof did not have adequate space, and the idea was ultimately put on hold to prioritize space for children and their families, until one of the designers had an idea to put the staff respite on the floor above, with water views and accessed via a staff elevator bank, off-stage from patient care spaces. It truly was “leftover, in-between” space with water views. Wood decking, furniture in a shaded seating area, and a swing facing the water all contribute to this rare amenity.

Jennifer Kovacs Silvis is editor-in-chief of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at