Foster + Partners’ massive “hospital of the future” for Penn Medicine opens in West Philadelphia

A New Paradigm

Foster + Partners’ massive “hospital of the future” for Penn Medicine opens in West Philadelphia

Penn Medicine’s newly opened $1.6 billion Pavilion inpatient care hospital is the largest capital project in the university’s history. The University of Pennsylvania Museum is in the foreground. (Dan Schwalm/Courtesy PennFIRST)

Foster + Partners, which, two years ago left a very pronounced mark on the Philadelphia skyline with the completion of the supertall Comcast Technology Center, has announced the opening of its second project in the City of Brotherly Love: The Pavilion, a 17-story inpatient hospital on the University of Pennsylvania’sWest Philadelphia medical campus. The London-headquartered firm heralds the project as a “blueprint for the hospital of the future” due in part to its co-location with some of the world’s most prestigious medical research laboratories and specialized treatment facilities.

Meant to function as a campus-anchoring public square for Penn Medicine, the Pavilion “knits the medical campus with the overall university through its materiality and urban planning,” noted Chris West, a partner with Foster + Partners, in a statement. The massive ship-like project was conceived through what Penn Medicine referred to in a news release as a “multilayered design process” that harnessed behavioral research to “guide design choices at each step, including input from thousands of employees who paved the way for the Pavilion through a series of life-size mockups of clinical spaces and simulations that the design team used to test design assumptions and generate feedback.”

Like the Comcast Technology Center, this 1.5 million-square-foot “future-ready hospital,” which Penn Medicine officially debuted earlier this week, can also be bestowed with a superlative or two as both the largest hospital project in the Philadelphia region and one of the largest hospital projects in the entire United States, according to Penn Medicine. Dramatically expanding the footprint of Penn Medicine’s flagship hospital, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), with the addition of 504 patient rooms, 47 operating rooms, and a bi-level emergency department that was wholly “reinvented” to replace HUP’s existing emergency department according to Penn Medicine, the $1.6 billion facility is also the largest capital project in the 280-year history of the University of Pennsylvania. (Founded in 1765, the Perelman School of Medicine at Penn is the oldest medical school in the United States while HUP is the oldest university-owned teaching hospital in the U.S.)

overhead view of an urban medical campus
The Pavilion is directly linked to HUP, Penn Medicine’s flagship hospital, on Penn’s West Philadelphia campus. (Penn Medicine)

“The new Pavilion at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania is designed to completely redefine the future of healthcare, said Norman Foster, founder and chairman of Foster + Partners, in a statement. “The building enables innovations that reflect University of Pennsylvania’s history of medical firsts, creating a truly flexible facility that molds itself to the needs of the patient. Responsive, adaptable and future-proof, it will allow the hospital to continue its crucial life-saving work and remain at the cutting edge of patient care.”

In its role as project architect, Foster + Partners served alongside the larger PennFirst integrated project delivery (IPD) team and HDR, engineering firm BR+A, construction managers LF Driscoll and Balfour Beatty, and, as mentioned, Penn Medicine employees.

“From the beginning, the integrated delivery team set out to challenge the existing model of healthcare delivery to create a new paradigm for hospitals in the future,” elaborated Nigel Dancey, senior executive partner with Foster + Partners, of the IPD approach. “Working collaboratively, we developed innovative ways to research and completely rethink patient care with the wellbeing of staff and patients along with long term flexibility at the heart of our approach.”

people move through the lobby area of a hospital
Main lobby area (Dan Schwalm/Courtesy PennFIRST)
a spacious hospital room with city views
Inpatient room (Dan Schwalm/Courtesy PennFIRST)

Wrapped in copper-hued aluminum and glass bands, the curved facade of the building references the historic architecture of the surrounding Penn campus including the nearby University of Pennsylvania Museum and its iconic Harrison Rotunda. “Its form is singular and sculptural, creating a recognizable new marker on the skyline of the Penn campus,” said West of the Pavilion. “At ground level, spaces flow from the street into the building, creating an inviting experience for pedestrians and providing a welcome contrast to the dense development of hospital buildings that surround the area.”

A notable element of the building’s construction was the unprecedented-for-Philadelphia use of prefabricated components that involved multiple trades, from sheet metal fabricators to electrical subcontractors, coming together in a multidisciplinary prefabrication warehouse facility established by the IPD team. This offsite, all-under-one-roof prefabrication approach was markedly efficient and fostered a collaborative spirit according to the firm; the process resulted in the fabrication of numerous large-scale components, such as bathrooms, during both the prototype and final installation phases. “Working in the framework of the IPD, it quickly became clear that the advantages of designing this way were substantial and could be extended, with a little effort, to the construction process as well—resulting in a higher-quality building,” concluded Foster + Partners.

maya lin sculpture in hospital lobby
Decoding The Tree of Life, a sculpture by Maya Lin in the lobby area. (Dan Schwalm/Courtesy PennFIRST)

The hospital itself is centered on patient- and family-focused care and this is reflected throughout the building’s design through an overarching emphasis on creating a comfortable, uplifting space that prioritizes natural light and views for patients, visitors, and staff. Circulation areas are easy to navigate and indirectly illuminated (no blinding, labyrinthine hallways here) and art, including works by Maya Lin and painter Odili Donald Odita on the Pavilion’s ground level, are dispersed throughout the public areas. Patient care floors are also highly flexible and are designed to be easily reconfigurable based on changing needs and patient demands. As noted by Foster + Partners, “the uncertainties experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have emphasized the need to design a hospital that can adapt with rapidly changing science, medicine, and patient care.”

A key feature of each individual patient care room is IRIS, a 75-inch screen that enables patients to review imaging and additional key information regarding their care with physicians and nurses. “Through IRIS, patients also have greater control of their environment at their fingertips for lighting, shades, temperature, and more, so they can personalize the room to their comfort,” added Penn Medicine.

a staff lounge in a hospital
One of many staff respite areas (Dan Schwalm/Courtesy PennFIRST)

The Pavilion’s formal October 30 opening, marked by a celebratory ribbon-cutting event, coincided with a massive, coordinated effort that commenced earlier that morning to safely transport 310 patients from HUP to the Pavilion via a network of enclosed bridges and tunnels that connect the two buildings.

“This new building now stands as a testament to Penn’s mission to serving humanity—from West Philadelphia to the East Coast, and beyond,” said Kevin Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “The team who designed, built, and now cares for patients in the Pavilion has shown us what the future of medicine looks like and ensured that Penn will be the epicenter of the very best care for generations to come.”