Building a Healing Environment in Tucson

DPR completed construction on the fast-track project just 14 months after groundbreaking.
DPR worked with the owner to create substantial cost and schedule savings during preconstruction.
DPR was able to incorporate some of the trees into the healing garden that were already on site.

New Cancer Center Clinic at UMC North Combines Therapeutic Effects of Art and Nature with Science and Medicine

Lush, outdoor healing gardens visible from every patient care area in the new Peter and Paula Fasseas Cancer Center Clinic at the University Medical Center (UMC) North in Tucson, AZ, contribute to an environment that blends art and healing with science and medicine. The intent of the building’s design is to evoke optimism and promote wellness in the patients who are served there, one of the newest examples of how healthcare facilities are being built around the healing effects of nature.

DPR completed construction on the fast-track, $25 million project last November, just 14 months after groundbreaking. The new Cancer Center Clinic is phase one of an overall master multi-phase expansion plan at UMC North campus, which will ultimately encompass several new buildings and facilities.

Located on the former site of Tucson General Hospital, the newly renovated two-story, 82,000-sq.-ft. Cancer Center Clinic is a “one-stop center,” providing comprehensive services. Patients see physicians, receive laboratory services, outpatient treatments and ongoing care with access to resources, including cancer research, support groups, and more in this facility which strives to “set the standard for cancer care” in the area.

Team Players

Client: University Medical Center

Architect: Anshen+Allen; CO Architects

The Center’s design by CO Architects of Los Angeles, CA, focuses entirely around the goals of patient care and comfort, incorporating numerous design elements to aid in the healing process. It follows the trend that has emerged from more than two decades of research, showing that patients who can view a garden and experience nature firsthand during their treatment are likely to heal more quickly than those who cannot.

Patient rooms have full views to three open-air courtyards that are enclosed by the building. Those courtyards were cut into the former Tucson General Hospital Emergency Department/Intensive Care Unit building to provide every patient room with an exterior window with views and natural daylight. Clinical areas are grouped into three pods, each separated by the interior courtyards. The infusion and treatment clinic rooms on the second floor also overlook the courtyards, as well as the Catalina Mountains to the north and the healing garden to the east, while landscaped terraces on the second floor offer opportunities for patients to enjoy fresh air and relaxation.

DPR worked with the owner, University Medical Center, to create substantial cost and schedule savings during preconstruction. One major cost-saving measure was to retain the steel and concrete structure of the existing two-story Tucson General Hospital, with the additions placed on the north and south ends of the existing structure and the courtyards cut into the center of the original structure. New exterior walls and interior layout were constructed with energyefficient mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

A central focal point of the building is the healing garden, which features a wide array of drought-resistant trees, cacti and flowering plants found in the local Sonoran Desert. DPR was even able to retain and incorporate into the garden some of the trees that were already on the building site, minimizing any negative impact on the existing environment.
To anchor the courtyard design, DPR brought in a 175-ton crane to lift the boulders over the building. Due to their size and weight, the boulders were too heavy to forklift through the building without tearing up the slab.

Bringing the healing environment full circle, DPR graded the area immediately surrounding the building, installed sidewalks, site walls and a drip irrigation system, all uniting the building’s exterior design with the interior courtyard’s healing elements. The landscaped exterior features small intimate seating areas, as well as meandering pathways that offer patients and staff the opportunity to stroll through the landscape. Small water features also offer points of interest along the pathway.

Complementing the healing atmosphere fostered by the building’s design elements, UMC evaluated and altered various clinical processes to make the patient’s experience as soothing and therapeutic as possible. The theme throughout the project in both form and process was to demonstrate how art and nature can work symbiotically with the science of medicine to produce the best overall benefit for patients.