And There Was Light

Feb. 21, 2012
Natural and artificial light plays a key role in the expansion of St. Joseph’s Health Systems’ medical campus in Patterson, N.J., which serves as a new portal to the highest quality of care in a calming and healing environment.


It is an indisputable fact that humans cannot exist without light. Our survival depends upon the source of light and heat around which our planet revolves. But researchers are quickly discovering that our innate need for light is about more than just warmth—it affects everything from our body’s natural rhythms to the speed of our healing.

For example, a 2006 study by Dr. Anjali Joseph for the Center for Health Design found that higher light levels are linked with better performance of complex visual tasks, and that light requirements increase with age. By controlling the body’s circadian system, light impacts outcomes in healthcare settings by reducing depression among patients, decreasing length of stay in hospitals, improving sleep cycles, lessening agitation among dementia patients, easing pain and improving adjustment to night-shift work among staff.

It’s no wonder then that access to plenty of natural and artificial light played such a critical role in the recent expansion of St. Joseph’s Health System’s (SJHS) medical center in Patterson, N.J. After extensive community research, New York-based firm Francis Cauffman created a master plan for SJHS that reorganized and expanded the entire medical campus to meet the needs of the surrounding population, with a state-of-the-art Critical Care Building (CCB), and a two-story lobby connecting the CCB and the children’s hospital, as its centerpiece.

Francis Cauffman designed the CCB as two intersecting ellipses, an unusual shape for a healthcare facility. The layout allows nurses to be closer to patients (nurses are no more than 15 feet away) but also presents a unique challenge in terms of daylighting.

“I think the biggest challenge was how to bring natural light into the core of the lobby, because the floor plan was more of a linear than a square format,” explains Architectural Designer Kasia N. Zielonka. “Throughout most of the projects—the lobby and the critical care building—the use of natural light coming through the building was the major design key that we worked out, [because] from a patient point of view, a lot of the healing power comes from the natural daylight.”

Floor-to-ceiling glass in every patient room ensures that daylight penetrates deep into the space, to the point that “we noticed there’s so much natural daylight coming in that the staff and patients don’t use as much artificial light as a result,” Zielonka says. Patient-controlled roller shades on the interior and fritted glass glazing on the exterior of the CCB help to reduce heat gain, as well as ensure patient privacy.

Entrance to an outdoor courtyard from the main lobby was also a central factor in the design, according to Jennifer K. Kenson, IIDA, EDAC, associate at Francis Cauffman. “Based on the infill project, we created access to an interior courtyard that wasn’t accessible before. That was another key element we wanted to provide the patient—access to nature without leaving the hospital grounds,” she says.

The core of the project, in many respects, is the main lobby, which became “the new front door of the hospital—the new branding effort that [the client was] going through—and a big transformation in terms of how people view the facility,” says Kenson. Connecting the CCB with the children’s hospital, the lobby doubles as a multipurpose room for community outreach and educational programs.

The focal point of the main lobby is a giant LED-lit wall of white acrylic boxes that changes color and interacts with natural daylight coming from the clerestory windows. The kaleidoscopic wall is synced with music and streams video art, providing a calming distraction for visitors and a fun feature for younger patients.

“The feature wall was one of those elements where the client had asked us to design an architectural component that would provoke movement and light, and some kind of a focal point,” Zielonka explains. “What we came up with was a 30- by 30-foot wall that was more of an architectural piece than an art piece, so we tiled the whole wall in these acrylic boxes. The idea was that they would be reliefed [sic] in different depths, so they would give you the sculptural aspect of movement, and the whole layering of LED lights behind each one of those boxes was to create this pixelated image.”

Kenson adds that because of the unique layout of the floor plan, every patient has a view to the color-changing light, which cycles throughout the day. Complementing the LED feature wall is a large, custom-designed globe fixture made up of color cubes that continuously reflect light. Both the globe and feature wall play off the natural light flooding the space, with the globe reflecting most of the light during the day and the LEDs acting as a backdrop to the lobby. As nighttime approaches, however, the interplay of light is reversed—the LED feature wall takes center stage as its colors constantly change to help create a soothing atmosphere, while the globe becomes a more subtle design element.

The main lobby sets the standard for the rest of the hospital and acts as a “portal” to its services, which includes a 729-bed tertiary medical center and a 120-bed full service children’s hospital. The resulting facility shines brightly as a beacon of light to the Patterson community, as well as to the growing segment of the population in need of better and more accessible health services.

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St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center
703 Main St.
Patterson, NJ 07503

project team
Francis Cauffman
33 East 33rd St.
Suite 1201
New York, NY 10016
(646) 315-7000

About the Author

Robert Nieminen | Chief Content Director

Robert Nieminen is the Chief Content Director of Architectural Products, BUILDINGS and i+s, sister publications of Smart Buildings Technology. He is an award-winning writer with more than 20 years of experience reporting on the architecture and design industry.

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