Bringing the artistic façade at Mercy Health's new West Hospital (Cincinnati) to life involved an artistic vision, mock-ups, a dose of technology, and a leap of faith.

For starters, the project team wanted to make a connection between the façade and Ohio’s history as a center of production of art pottery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The proposed exterior featured a mosaic tile wall system with colors inspired by the ceramic glazes as well as the landforms and valleys and hills of the region.

“In the beginning, as all of these colors were being introduced, there was some resistance,” says Patti Meszaros, director of facility planning at Mercy Health & Catholic Health Partners. “It’s very different from what we’ve done.”

In fact, the 167,000 exterior glazed brick tiles on the building come in 11 colors and 19 shapes.

To help sell decision-makers on the idea, the design team started exploring the system and color arrangement of the tiles with painted architectural-scale models. Then a full-scale model of the wall system was made from foam core and hung on the side of a parking garage at one of Mercy’s suburban office locations. Next, large-scale computer-generated prints of the pattern were produced, and finally, full-scale mock-ups of the actual materials were created.

Jim May, executive vice president and COO, Catholic Health Partners, says he made the decision to go with the colorful exterior because it spoke to the site and the services the organization was providing. “Utilizing the colors of nature in a playful and soothing fashion is not only pleasing to the eye but supportive of our core mission of healing,” he says.

Once they got the green light, designers used BIM software to model the tiles individually and finalize the layout and color matrix of the bricks.

A local fabricator manufactured the bricks using Ohio clay. They were then transported to Trikeenen Tileworks (Hornell, N.Y.), where ceramic artists glazed and fired them. The finished tiles were returned to Ohio to be hand-placed into forms, each of the colors of brick assigned a number and a name to indicate which color to put in what place on a form. The forms were cast into 30-by-7-foot insulated precast concrete panels and hung on the exterior of the building.

“It feels really connected and very much a part of this place,” says Mic Johnson, lead designer on the project and now design principal at Architecture Field Office (Minneapolis).

The end result has left an impression on staff and patients, too, Meszaros says. “As we’ve been talking to the nursing staff, they say, ‘It feels clean, honest, and transparent,’” she says. “That’s very meaningful to me, because the staff is often representing what they’re hearing from patients.”

For a more indepth look at the Mercy West project, check out "Mercy Health Goes Bold And Beautiful" or HCD's August issue.

For insight on Mercy Health West’s green roof, read “Room To Bloom At Mercy Health.”