Hoag Hospital Irvine, Sun Family Campus, Irvine, California

The Hoag Hospital Irvine expansion at Sun Family Campus, in Irvine, Calif., aims to reimagine the modern healthcare facility as a pedestrian-friendly campus that balances multiple low-scale buildings with open spaces and healing gardens.

Scheduled to open by 2026, the project centers on a wellness village concept with specialty care centers for surgical, cancer, digestive health, urgent care, and women’s services. Designed to create a differentiator in the healthcare marketplace, the plan includes 155 inpatient beds, eight operating rooms, and 120,000 square feet of ambulatory facilities.

Franco Brown, principal and design director at LPA, Hoag Hospital Irvine expansion at Sun Family Campus, in Irvine, Calif.

Image credit: LPA Design Studios

Here, Lead Designer Franco Brown, principal and design director at LPA (Irvine, Calif.), the architect and interior design firm on the project, talks about rethinking connections to nature and meeting patient expectations.

This project aims to challenge the conventional hospital model. How?

The idea was inspired by Hoag’s vision to create a world-class healthcare environment that is rooted in its place and community. Orange County, and Irvine, Calif., are renowned for a planning approach that balances buildings with green open spaces.

Working in this context, the concept of a low-scale “wellness village” of specialty institute buildings emerged. The design inside each building can then be shaped to its specific service lines with access to landscaped courtyards, patios, and terraces—leveraging nature to aid in the healing process.

What steps did the project team take to bring that vision to life?

The design team worked directly with Hoag’s leadership to establish a series of guiding principles that informed the decision-making process. There were several challenges that we had to overcome to bring the wellness village concept to reality.

Rethinking parking was one of them. The pedestrian experience took center stage, relegating the parking garages to the back of the site by using a valet and concierge model borrowed from the high-end hospitality industry.

Another challenge was the service distribution and connectivity between the different buildings. The team introduced an underground service-tunnel network separating the patient’s experience on the ground from the technical aspects of the hospital below.

How does the project rethink connections to nature on a hospital campus?

There are many regulatory constraints that prevent key spaces in a hospital from having a direct connection to the outside, so we challenged ourselves to understand what was possible. Some early design elements like the extensive use of water features in the healing gardens proved to be too difficult to overcome.

We focused on bringing nature close to patients and caregivers through trees, planting, and natural light wherever possible. We successfully introduced nature throughout the project at ground level but also on the upper floors in the form of planted terraces, decks, balconies, and respite areas. We wanted nature to be the connecting factor, accessible
to everyone.

Why was it important to incorporate “high-touch” materials here?

The human experience and compassionate care were priorities for Hoag from the beginning. It was critical to counter the high-stress moments that both patients and caregivers face with opportunities to decompress and find respite. We achieved this by offering spaces that stimulate the senses at a basic level: the rustling of tree leaves, the smell of soil after the rain, the warm sunshine on the skin.

Some of these qualities can also be found in the architecture and interiors, like the use of natural materials and biophilic patterns: tactile travertine stone, wood-grain paneling, and soft, diffused natural light. These are materials and sensations that are intuitively familiar to us; they have lived in our collective memories for centuries, unlike being inside an MRI machine.

What design strategies and materials are used to achieve this goal?

The strategy was simple: to locate “high-touch” moments, spaces, and features never too far from “high-tech” moments. This applies both to patients, families, and caregivers.

On any given floor there are always opportunities nearby for respite. For example, the ability to see outside and perceive the changing light conditions throughout the day is significant to caregivers. Respite areas to rest and social spaces for them to connect are also a big part of their sense of well-being.

How will patients’ evolving expectations continue to shape the industry?

We are seeing healthcare providers use the patient experience as a differentiator. Patients expect less friction, more control, and even enjoyable, memorable experiences. The physical environments play a key role in shaping these outcomes.

What design trend to elevate the patient experience is on your radar?

The healthcare industry has been driven by regulation, outcomes, and well-established protocols for decades. In recent years, architects, designers, and medical planners are being “rediscovered” as difference-makers when it comes to patient experience.

There is a lot to learn from other industries as well. We anticipate the blurring of boundaries to continue, and healthcare being positively impacted by industries such as hospitality, recreation, culinary arts, fitness, and wellness. As patient’s expectations and empowerment grow, the ability to shape their experience and outcome draws creative minds to innovate.

Anne DiNardo is editor-in-chief of Healthcare Design magazine and can be reached at anne.dinardo@emeraldx.com.