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Summer 1999
That Human Touch
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museum, with little sense of how to find their way around. The architect's glass pyramid, which rises from the western courtyard and lights a spacious subterranean entrance lobby, has become a beloved landmark and a social condenser. It draws in the crowds and gives them the directions they need to explore the wonders of art. It is that same sense of focus, access and belonging that Pei has transmitted to the design of the new medical center. Equally important to the project's success was the selection of Perkins and Will, a large and experienced firm, to be the executive architects. It will be their job to keep the project on schedule and within budget, leaving Pei's group free to dream. "That's what we are hired to do," insists Chien Chung Pei, one of the elder Pei's two sons. "Our job is to give the client something far better than they themselves have envisioned."

The difficult goal for the Pei team is to balance conflicting priorities - human scale and comfort vs. cutting-edge technology - and fit them together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Striking such a balance may have been easier in the early years of the modern movement, before soaring costs, restrictive regulations and the insatiable demands of technology-overwhelmed artistry. Alvar Aalto's 1928 tuberculosis sanatorium at Paimio in Finland and Eric Mendelsohn's 1930s hospitals in Haifa and Jerusalem are luminous examples. In Southern California, Bobrow Thomas Associates has infused its work - notably the Daniel Freeman Medical Center and the newly completed Arrowhead Medical Center - with humanity, greenery and abundant natural light. But in recent years, the big general and university teaching hospitals have become huge, cheerless containers that overwhelm their users. Pei was determined to do things differently, believing that human scale, welcoming spaces for patients and their families and the presence of nature would speed healing with no sacrifice of efficiency.

Before the two-year design process began, in the spring of 1997, planning groups had achieved a consensus on what the building should contain. Dr. James Atkinson, a pediatric surgeon who returned to his alma mater in 1995 to become vice chair of the Department of Surgery, praises the magnitude of involvement by faculty and staff. "Everyone was encouraged to think "out of the box," " he recalls. "The wish lists went 30 percent over what we could afford or fit into the site. We spent a lot of time looking at where we are now and where we might be in 50 years - a mind-boggling task."

He notes that the pace of change is accelerating and that every breakthrough can bring new requirements. The introduction of radiation therapy to speed the healing of the cornea after surgery required that a two-inch lining of lead be added to a procedure room. Another innovation - conducting operations while the patient is within MRI equipment - necessitated structural reinforcement to support the huge weight of these machines. Atkinson also anticipates that surgery, cardiology and other once-separate disciplines will merge and become synergistic, thus removing divisions that have long been accepted as a fact of life.

To take account of unforeseeable changes, the architects have emphasized openness and flexibility, designing a technologically smart building with the capacity to be upgraded. They have saved space by clustering related activities on a single floor, or by stacking them in vertical cores to concentrate services. But they have also worked to ensure that most of the rooms can be readily adapted to different

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