Image courtesy of HDR © 2021 Dan Schwalm
The new 10-story Hubbard Center for Children features a perforated screen with changing lights as Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center’s new entry point.

Colorful New Children's Hospital Serves as a Beacon to Omaha Community

Jan. 17, 2023
Omaha’s Hubbard Center for Children features a new 10-story, state-of-the-art hospital with user comfort at the forefront of HDR’s playful, colorful and engaging design.

The Children’s Hospital and Medical Center of Omaha was at a crossroads. Founded back in 1948 at the time of the polio epidemic, the facility has remained Nebraska’s only free-standing children’s hospital. But in recent years, the institution reached capacity and only an expansion would allow it to continue serving the needs of the community and beyond.

Though confined to a tight, urban site, the decision was made to build the Hubbard Center for Children—a new 10-story, state-of-the-art children’s hospital, effectively doubling the size of the existing space, with 100 new beds, 17 operative rooms, a 20-room emergency department, imaging center and more.

Consolidating the children’s intensive care and cardiac care units, formerly located across the street in another hospital, with Hubbard’s full range of pediatric services, the tower offers an expansive cafe area, chapel and meeting space, intuitive patient check-in/ check-out, outdoor viewing and gardens.

Thanks to the 460,000 square-foot expansion and a 100,000 square-foot renovation, the hospital is now equipped to serve more than 150,000 children annually, with close to half travelling in from outside the Omaha metro area.

Colorful and Playful

In designing a new front door for the campus and its carefully curated interiors, the experience of timid children and trepidatious parents as they embark upon their healthcare journey, both large and small, was top of mind for the architecture and interiors team at HDR.

As staff, patients and visitors approach the children’s medical center, their eyes are drawn to a colorful, expanded parking garage adjacent to the new tower with a large digital media screen and perforated skin presenting shifting colored lights.

Sharing some details about integrating the lighting onto the façade, HDR Lighting Design Section Manager Lisa Lyons explains, “The top row of lights is mounted within the exterior cavity while the bottom lights were brought out in front to illuminate the front of the facade to create depth and accentuate the folds within the perforated screen. Together with the client, we digitally programmed many different scenes for various holidays and health awareness events.”

The colors continue all throughout the interior with hues and shapes assigned to each floor to create excitement and positivity while serving as a wayfinding tool as follows:

  • Lower levels—all colors and shapes
  • 2nd floor—purple and circle patterns
  • 4th floor—turquoise and triangles
  • 5th floor—yellow and squares
  • 6th floor—blue and diamonds
  • 7th floor—orange and hexagons

“The shapes that were chosen increase in the number of sides as you go up from floor to floor,” explained Matthew Delaney, brand + experience designer at HDR’s Omaha office. “We wanted to make sure the shapes were easily recognizable for all ages. The sketch quality and saturated background help accomplish that.”

The team made sure to stick with standard colors to ensure consistency with colored product options for flooring, carpeting and tile.

The design also features adjustable, color-changing lighting in the radiology department. “In the radiology rooms, we incorporated color-changing cove lights to create a welcoming atmosphere and to help distract the children before and during their procedure,” recalled Lyons. “In the ultrasound room we did a fiber optic star-field ceiling to mimic the night sky.”

Here, the wallcovering was designed and the ceilings were painted to create an immersive experience. In other locations, the design team coordinated with neutral finishes to enable the lighting, colors and/or graphic walls to be the focal point.

The designers also incorporated colored ribbons that trace along the floor of the main circulation corridors with different shapes.

“Kids can follow those throughout their journey through the hospital turning even the floor into a sort of game that creates a positive memory. The meandering ribbon lines let children hop from shape to shape or walk the line where the color changes,” explained Laura Franzluebbers, a senior interior designer with HDR.

The designers carried over this ribbon concept from the existing facility, thereby creating continuity. Whereas the older facility utilizes more complicated symbols like stars and starships, the designers chose to simplify the shapes for the new building.

A unitized curtainwall envelope seamlessly ties the existing hospital to the expansion, and the two buildings are connected at the cafeteria on the first level and a large community area on the third floor. “This is where the existing and the new language coalesce,” Franzluebbers explained. “The new facility is a new standard, and several of the spaces in the existing facility are being upgraded to create color consistency.”

To further engage the children, touch screens are available in multiple locations where the kids can play different games. There’s also a playroom with a large, panoramic panel scene hiding 20 frogs, which children can search for as they wait for their appointment.

Another interesting feature is a large panoramic of Nebraska depicting Omaha all the way out to the panhandle with highlighted landmarks of the state.

Integrated Project Delivery

The Hubbard Center for Children bears the distinction of being the first integrated project delivery (IPD) development in the state of Nebraska, chosen for the delivery method’s ability to tap the team’s shared expertise and save time on the project schedule. IPD is a project delivery approach that integrates people, systems, business structures and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction, according to the AIA.

In preparation, the team visited similar IPD projects across the country and leveraged the services of lean coaches for training and planning. With IPD’s shared risk-and-reward framework, this provides accountability and motivation to the full building team. In particular, the financial model allows team members to profit when criteria such as schedule, budget and quality are met.

“Working in one collocated space with all of the disciplines together allowed us to share ideas and understand the reason behind each decision as a team. It was a more seamless coordination because of that environment,” reported Franzluebbers.

In employing an IPD strategy, this allowed the team to begin construction prior to submitting its final bid package for interior fit out and final work. With a higher level of collaboration, there was less downtime and waste.

A Job Well Done

As members of the Omaha community, many of who are benefitting from the new Hubbard Center for Children, the building team had a lot to say about the experience.

“It was really amazing project to get to work on. Multiple members of the team, myself included, have experienced the hospital with our children, so we wanted to create a place that is a wonderful experience for the patients and families and the amazing doctors,” Lyons said.

“Following the client’s social media, you get little glimpses of the spaces, and it feels good to know that our team was such an integral part of it. It is really neat and gives you the warm fuzzies,” Delaney added.

In conclusion, Franzluebbers expressed her appreciation for working on this noteworthy project. “There’s a lot of pride being able to be involved in something where you live and you pass so often. It’s such a key beacon in the city, so to be able to work on that is really rewarding.”

About the Author

Barbara Horwitz-Bennett | Contributing Editor

Barbara Horwitz-Bennett has been covering the AEC industry for the past 25 years. She writes for a number of industry magazines and works with AEC firms and product manufacturers on content writing projects.

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