Miami Beach conjures images of low-slung Art Deco structures and sinuous Morris Lapidus towers along the Atlantic coast. That historic backdrop now has a new addition: a seven-story tower rising along the shore of Biscayne Bay. The Mount Sinai Medical Center Skolnick Surgical Tower and Hildebrandt Emergency Center is a 340,000-square-foot addition to the area’s largest independent nonprofit hospital, and includes a patient tower, surgery center, and remodeled and expanded emergency department. The project was the work of CannonDesign: Arjun Bhat co-led the exterior design from the firm’s St. Louis office, and Kimberly Cook headed the interior design from the Chicago office.
Entry to the complex is from the west via a covered circular driveway. The first and second floors connect to the hospital’s existing campus of 15 buildings to the east. The first floor provides staff and support spaces for the entire complex; the second floor has a new surgery center with waiting areas at the west end overlooking the entry and bay. On the upper floors, private patient rooms will replace older double rooms that are being phased out across the entire campus. The tower, a five-sided volume with three primary curved faces, offers stunning views from every patient room.
The building’s exterior is punctuated by a canopy, made from sculptural cast-in-place concrete, that is loosely based on the form of a manta ray. The tower itself is clad in precast concrete panels that add another sculptural element: expressive “brows” that protect linear bands of windows from the intense South Florida sun. Bhat says the fabrication of the exterior panels was a craftsmen’s marvel. “Shipbuilders built the forms for the precast elements because they curve in three dimensions,” Bhat says. “Being done in a white concrete, they had to be flawless, because any inconsistency with either the curve or how the pieces meet up would be accentuated in the Miami sun.”
Given the project’s location on the bay, it was also important that the building be capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds, 20-foot storm surges, and widespread power and utility outages. In fact, the structure is so resilient that it is now home to Miami Beach’s Emergency Command Center.
The building couldn’t look like a fortress, however: It had to be accessible and welcoming to a diverse set of constituents. “You have everyone coming to this hospital from residents that are below the poverty line to vacationers to international tourists,” Cook says. Hospital leadership stipulated that they wanted “an iconic museum-like building.” Cook says, “We don't often hear that from our healthcare clients.”
The CEO did not want the design team to look at nearby hospitals for inspiration. “They wanted us to look at the restaurants and hotels in Miami Beach and the experiences people are having when they come here,” Cook says. This research led them to develop the design based on an ocean aesthetic, a reverence for the deep-rooted Art Deco heritage on the island, and the ideal siting and curving of the structure to ensure those stunning water views.
Inside, the design team was just as ambitious. On the first floor, an east-west concourse connects the tower and the café, cafeteria, and seating areas to the rest of the campus—a 300-foot-span that the architects fashioned as an “art wall.” The wall allows the hospital to celebrate the philanthropy interests that support the institution: “The concourse was designed to be a canvas for that,” Bhat says. Because Mount Sinai is a teaching hospital, the concourse has also turned into a social hub. “I've noticed students and nursing staff using the concourse as a place to meet and rest,” he says.
The architects used the nearby beach as inspiration for other interior design features. The terrazzo floors have varying densities of aggregate, much in the same way that the beach has varying levels of sand depending on how close you are to the water’s edge. The architects also used wood finishes as an accent in a few key spots: “We wanted to use a limited amount of wood in important areas where it could harken back to the color of beach sand and add warmth,” Cook says.
The new tower is the first new structure at the medical center in years—and sets a new standard for the future of the complex. “The building needed to be infused with a modern identity—lightness, brightness, an uplifting and positive feel,” Cook says. CannonDesign has produced an inspiring design that feels more like one of Miami Beach’s hot spots than a health care facility.