Although they are rarely the focus of attention, nurses have a tremendously important role as healers in the life of any healthcare institution. Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City was fortunate to find a benefactor who understood this. Beatrice Renfield wanted to realize her vision of a healthful, peaceful, and nurturing environment for the nursing staffa place that integrates the healing arts with traditional methods so that nurses in the future would have a place to go for peer support and personal development.

Guenther 5 designed the “gut renovation” of the 5,000-sq.-ft. 7th floor of an unremarkable building (originally a residential building, then a dormitory, and then offices) as the Beatrice Renfield Center for Nursing Excellence (the Nursing Center). Oriented around the long axis of the rectangular floorplate, the Nursing Center is truly a respite area for Beth Israel’s nurses and staff. From the elevator, one immediately enters a quiet, light-filled, reception area (A) that sets the tone with bamboo walls and floors, a simple bench, and a dramatic, deep-red wall that defines the Center’s director’s office.

A large classroom (B) off the bamboo hallway (C) is a central feature of the floorplan; its furniture and layout allow tables to be set up in small groups for luncheons, traditional desks to be arranged for lectures, or chairs clustered for less formal meetings. A galley kitchen is just across the hall. Projection and audio equipment were selected that would accommodate any educator, whether from Beth Israel or another institution.

Everyone associated with the Nursing Center, including the Guenther 5 designers and the nurses themselves, were excited about the “reflection and renewal” space, a small room (D) used only for “quiet time.” Working closely with Mrs. Renfield, the designers developed a deep-blue sitting area, using colorful textiles on upholstery and pillows, and plentiful soft materials. An iconic sculpture provides a unique refuge for anyone who needs a moment to collect his or her thoughts.

Other elements of the Center include a bank of computers for research and writing (E); a variety of staff offices (F); a second, smaller conference room; and additional storage. Adjacent to the reception area is a second space that can be converted from a flexible workspace to an informal dining area or a waiting area, depending on how the furniture is arranged. Adjacent custom shelving allows the hospital to showcase its collection of memorabilia and historic nursing textbooks.

Unlike most institutional spaces, the Nursing Center captures the spirit of a mind-body connection for nursing staff in a way that many other hospitals do not.


Iva Kravitz is public relations director for Guenther 5 Architects, New York, New York.