Imagine a center where cancer patients can go to one location and have all of their specific treatment needs available in a matter of footsteps. Chicago-based firm OWP/P did, and achieved that goal, with the 432,300-square-foot Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center in Milwaukee. In the new facility, patients are greeted by a lushly outfitted concierge-style hub, where they are directed to departments that are condition-specific, each of which is equipped with doctor's offices, diagnostic machines, and treatment rooms. This allows people who are tired from illness and treatment to get care in a healing environment, one that doesn't look or feel like a hospital.

Nature played a big part in the design for Froedtert, which is situated among bucolic marshes, complete with swaying grasses and wildlife. Curving delicately to complete a central core on the campus, the new facility sits on a site that has for the past several years been inhabited by a parking structure. The structure was taken down when it was determined that the location was optimal for patients who had to visit the oncology department of the neighboring hospital, and it was replaced by 195,000 square feet of below-grade parking.

Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center
Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center

The exterior's most striking feature is its striated, fritted curtain wall, unusual on a medical building—where privacy is king—but an important element, says Randy Guillot, design principal at OWP/P, in connecting the building with the surrounding marshy landscape. "The south side is treated with a random, almost organic painting of frit patterns in the glass," says Guillot. "When seen from across the wetlands, this has an organic quality and a quality of changing dramatically at different times of day. It cuts down on the bulk."

The curtain wall also plays a crucial role in the interior, says Jocelyn Stroupe, an OWP/P interior design principal, in that it allows the patients to have access to abundant daylight, a factor that has proved so critical in studies on healing that the hospital committed to 18 feet between floors.

Typical Floor Plan
Typical Floor Plan

The building is organized to take advantage of natural elements, such as view and light, which contribute to a healthy mindset, but the organization of the departments and floor plans is focused on making sure that the experience is as user-friendly as possible. "A huge point to this building is accessibility. Patients arrive, park under the building, and their care is an elevator ride away," says Guillot.

Because of the abundant interior spaces, not every room can get a view. But the space was planned so that major corridors and gathering spaces are located on the outer wall, which in Stroupe's mind "makes it a bit more democratic, because everyone will have access to the natural light several times during the course of the day."

Stroupe was determined to use warm, natural materials to make the space more inviting, and the lobby features natural cherry wood paneling on the walls and ceilings, quartzite floors, and honed basalt on the main staircase.

Materials change as visitors go further into the space, in part by necessity, in part by the designers' choice. Stroupe points out that all of the walkways on the upper levels are carpeted "to provide a softer feel underfoot." Walls throughout the upper floor are painted, in part to comply with stringent standards that preclude materials, like fabric, which can transmit germs, but also to allow a range of bright colors.

The natural products in the lobby could not all be continued into the space because of those healthcare standards. Wood, for example, could not be used in chemotherapy infusion rooms, but Stroupe's team chose a realistically wood-grained sheet vinyl product that is antimicrobial.

Randy Guillot

Design Principal

Randy Guillot Design Principal OWP/P
Joselyn Stroupe

Interior Design Principal

Joselyn Stroupe Interior Design Principal OWP/P

Duplicate spaces were avoided where possible, but the clients were not afraid to add extra facilities if it would make access easier for the patients. This, says Guillot, is what differentiates the project from what he terms "pimp my ride" healthcare architecture, in which facilities revamp lobbies and public spaces without addressing planning issues.

" 'Logical, not lavish' was our client's mantra," says Guillot, "and what it means is logical in terms of sensibility about the project. There is a certain matter-of-factness that is respectful of the people using it. The cancer center is a building designed specifically around their needs."

Project Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center
Location: Milwaukee
Client: Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee— William Petasnick (CEO, president); John A. Balzer (VP of facilities planning and development)
Architect: OWP/P, Chicago—Jim Mladucky (principal/project director); Randy Guillot (design principal); Chris Liakakos (planning principal); Jocelyn Stroupe (interior design principal); Dan Fagan (engineering principal); Louis Vavaroutsos (project designer); George Witaszek (senior architect/technical lead); Andy Piraro (interiors technical lead); Angel Ortiz, Jerry Wright, Adam Godlewski, Chisako Fukase, Elizabeth Kolzow (project team); Craig Wyatt (specifications); Tom Hampson (construction administration)
Landscape Architect: Johnson Management Services
Architect Consultant: Zimmerman Design Group
Planning Consultant: Health Care Facilities Consultant
Construction Manager: M. A. Mortenson Co.
M/E/P Engineering Consultant: Affiliated Engineers
Structural Engineering Consultant: Harwood Engineering Consultants
Civil Engineering Consultant: Graef, Anhalt, and Schloemer
Parking Consultants: Health Quality Partners (operational); Standard Parking; Walker Parking Consultants
Fire Protection: Wauwatosa Fire Prevention Bureau