Newsletter Subscription
Print Subscription
Change Address
Healing Ways
A planned mental health facility in Tucson aims for a more stress-free experience
A rendering of the Behavioral Health Pavilion.
All renderings courtesy cannon design

The planned Pima County Behavioral Health Pavilion and Crisis Response Center in Tucson, Arizona, represents a new way of thinking about mental health facilities. In the past, this building type has received short shrift when it comes to design, a result of scant funding and a desire to go unnoticed by NIMBYs. If an expected national wave of health care reform translates into a facility building boom, the Pima Pavilion could become a model to watch.

interior of the bhp.
the chc lobby.
The $60.3 million, 208,000-square-foot project due for completion in 2010 was created by the San Francisco office of Cannon Design. It not only has a striking (and sustainable) profile, but it reformulates mental health design by combining uses that are usually scattered across many facilities, and streamlining a process both wasteful and often dangerous for those involved.

The project’s three-story Behavioral Health Pavilion, a 96-bed psychiatric hospital, offers extensive care and treatment and has its own courtroom and examination area, which allows patients to be assessed in a more efficient way than before. Meanwhile, its two-story Crisis Response Center, which focuses on stabilization, frees up long-term beds in the hospital by handling clients who don’t need to be admitted. Before this model, points out Carl Hampson, vice president and design leader at Cannon, a lot of these people would simply wind up in jail. “[Prisons] weren’t equipped to deal with people in this type of position, and they would just hold them there,” Hampson said.

Both buildings will be rectilinear in form, oriented around long bars containing administration functions. Treatment spaces and hospital rooms near the edges of the building will be placed around central courtyards. Unlike many mental health facilities, all patient rooms in the pavilion will have access to natural light, while 75 percent of the entire complex will be naturally lit. Each floor will be interspersed with patient activity decks, and all rooms will have outdoor balconies. To minimize confusion, each level will repeat this layout. “It’s a very complex system,” added Hampson, “but it’s still simplified to keep wayfinding and organization straightforward.”

The Crisis Response Center, one of two mental health buildings to open in Tuscon.

The visual highlight of the pavilion will be a bronze-colored, perforated aluminum screen facing south, which will not only be the project’s centerpiece, but will also reduce peak energy loads on the building by 30 percent. It will measure about 45 feet high and 230 feet long. A void carved out of the second and third floors of the Behavioral Health Pavilion will contain a large public outdoor space, which continues in the adjacent double-height interior corridor, which in turn connects visually to the patients’ courtyard.

Built in the desert, the building is designed to minimize its environmental impact. Aside from the large screen in front, the project is oriented on an east-west axis to lower heat gain. It will be built with locally produced concrete block and recycled metal panel systems, as well as low-VOC paints. Landscaping will include native Sonoran desert plants, permeable paving in parking areas, and assive water harvesting. The associate architect is Tucson-based CDG Architects. The whole point of the design, said Hampson, is “to see it as a healing center, not a detention center.”

Sam Lubell