Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Pavilion

Read Time: 5 minutes

This past October, one week before the 2021 SEGD Conference Experience opened in Philadelphia, SEGD member firm Cloud Gehshan (Philadelphia) celebrated the culmination of a six-year-long project to design the wayfinding system for the new Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Pavilion. The project represents a highly collaborative approach between designers, architects and clinicians resulting in a well-integrated and seamless design solution to a complex set of challenges.

The new Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Pavilion (a.k.a. “The Pavilion”) is BIG. Located in Philadelphia’s University City district, the 14-story tower includes 500 inpatient beds, 50 operating and procedure rooms, and a state-of-the-art emergency department. The $1.6-billion-dollar advanced clinical facility is also the largest LEED Gold project in the world.

How then, as a designer, do you effectively welcome and guide patients through this vast structure in an intuitive and efficient way?

This was the challenge presented to Cloud Gehshan (Philadelphia), the experiential graphic design studio tasked with creating a comprehensive wayfinding system for the Pavilion, including interior and exterior identification and directional signage, as well as a donor recognition system. Making the project especially challenging: the new building is sited within a dense medical district with several different hospitals and numerous interconnected patient-care buildings all  serviced by a complicated transit and traffic system.

“This is a bustling area with honking cars, buses and ongoing construction,” says Linzi Eggers, Associate Design Director at Cloud Gehshan on the Pavilion project. “With that chaos taxing a visitor who is already stressed about their loved one’s health, we had to get the navigation right the first time.”

The Cloud Gehshan team, including psychologist Peter Hecht, PhD, had help in meeting this challenge. From the project’s beginnings, they partnered with other members of the larger design team, including Foster + Partners, HDR, and Penn clinicians who would eventually work in the building. This greater collaborative effort was titled PennFIRST by the leadership at Penn Medicine.

“PennFIRST is an example of an ‘integrated product delivery’ or IPD,” says Ian Goldberg, Principal and Partner at Cloud Gehshan. “It included anybody and everybody who would touch this project in any way—the architects of record, interior designers, interior architects, landscape architects, etc.—they were all part of this team.

“We all had a space within a shared office that Penn created specifically for the project,” continues Ian. “This allowed for a level of collaboration and excellence which shows in the final result.“

“I think what was so unique about this project was how integrated we were early on,” says Linzi about the PennFirst team. “We were able to collaborate with the architects about walls or sign placement or materials and find ways to sink messages into the building. It was important to locate directions and identifications thoughtfully, so we could have as few signs as possible and keep a clutter-free healing environment.”

Simultaneously, the PennFIRST design team worked closely with Penn clinicians to design from the patient and caregiver’s perspectives. Seven floors of the Pavilion are dedicated to inpatient beds—72 beds per floor—with inpatient rooms aligned along the building’s perimeter, giving patients amazing views of Philadelphia. Staff functions are hidden from the public eye within the core of the building (a kind of “Disney Land approach”). But the Pavilion’s oval-shaped floor plan creates what is essentially a quarter-mile racetrack on each inpatient floor, making circulation planning critical to patient needs.

“Long corridors are problematic if you have mobility issues or are elderly, so we needed to make an enormous building feel navigable,” says Linzi. “The input and feedback from clinicians working on those floors was key to thoughtfully dividing up units, and we worked with them to plan out circulation paths, and determine the room numbering sequence. We calculated distances from the building entrance to a patient’s room and developed a plan to divide up traffic to reduce disruption outside patient rooms.”

Foster + Partners’ design of the Pavilion’s public spaces follows a minimalist aesthetic, so simplification of the signage elements was key to their successful integration within the building’s overall design. To make this happen, Cloud Gehshan collaborated with other members of PennFIRST to develop design standards ranging from strategic locations to material selection to consistent messaging and nomenclature. 

“We made sure the way things were mounted didn’t feel like a sign hung on a wall. Instead, the sign was the wall, as if the messaging grew out of it,” said Linzi about the simplification process

Cloud Gehshan and the PennFIRST team also applied this same strategy of simplification and integration in the design of the donor panels located throughout the Pavilion. In many areas the donor signage consists of white letters on white walls—a very subtle design aesthetic, despite the high donor amounts given to secure these prominent locations.

“Penn Medicine Development really found a way to sell these spaces, but also sell the mission of the Pavilion,” says Linzi. “Donors understood that having their names contrasting—big and flashy—would be a disruption to the soothing environment. The donors  supported a design that really recedes and lets people focus on their healthcare.”

“We stripped down the design, but also simplified the messaging and made it consistent throughout the hospital and in adjacent buildings,” says Ian. “That’s an important piece. It’s really the nomenclature and how simple, consistent and clear it is that gives people information where and when they need it.”

And in the end, that enhancement of the visitor and patient experience within the new Pavilion was the central charge given to Cloud Gehshan and the other team members: to help alleviate some of the anxiety that accompanies a visit to the hospital with a well-designed and well-integrated wayfinding system. 

“The design of the building and signage made the navigation feel intuitive; you’re never put into a situation where you are searching for directions,” concludes Linzi. “You don’t even have to think about signs. Focus on healthcare, because that’s the  reason that you’re there.”