Healthcare Feature: Creating A Highly Sensitive Design

Empathy and compassion were key elements in the design of a state-of-the-art pediatric facility.

By Facility Executive Staff
From the June 2022 Issue

In Snoqualmie, WA, a burned-down bed and breakfast was an eyesore for 15 years—until it was rebuilt and redesigned into the 10,000 square-foot state-of-the-art pediatric facility that it is today.

The Washington-based non-profit Encompass Northwest’s facility, Encompass Snoqualmie pediatric center, unites a network of staff and professional therapists (that are both mobile and facility-based) with a network of children, parents, families, and nonprofit board members. Designed by Seattle-based Signal Architecture + Research, PLLC, the organization and its partners worked together to design a space that catered to the children’s immediate needs and their future growth.

“Clinics in the past have been focused on just the child, and there’s been parent support as a supplement, but Encompass is about the whole family,” said Mark Johnson, Signal’s Principle Architect, who is responsible for this project’s design. “Their support is child-centered, and caring for the family.”

Pediatric Facility
The entrance to the newly-designed Encompass Snoqualmie pediatric center in Washington.
Pediatric Facility
The colorful, welcoming space is designed for children, their parents, families, and the community.

Ranging in age from infants to 8-year-olds, children brought to Encompass for therapy have varying levels of need, from early learning and exercise programs, to full speech and language services, to motor learning therapy. In discussions with Encompass therapists, parents, and children, Signal learned that the children experience anxiety when entering a new place. Taking this into account, Signal created a highly-sensitive design that helps put children at ease when in the facility.

“It needed to be a welcoming place, it needed to be an approachable place,” said Johnson. “It needed to be a place where families felt comfortable coming for the first time and after that.”

The center is located in a low-lying meadow near Kimball Creek, with views of Mount Si. The challenge of this location, however, was that it’s on a floodplain—but after taking this into account, the design team raised the structure five feet off the ground and added in flood mitigation landscaping.

Johnson notes that the majority of the surrounding buildings have stairs to access their front entrance, but the team took a different approach with the pediatric facility. Many young kids, ages 3-5, may find it daunting to walk up a lot of stairs if they’re already nervous about entering a building. With that in mind, and taking the approach preschool teachers often do to communicate with children, the design team wanted to bring the building down to a young child’s level, and decided to install a ramp leading to the entrance instead of stairs.

“It’s not the second way in, if you’re in a wheelchair or a walker, you don’t have to go around the back way. The back way is the stairs,” adds Johnson.

Interior Design

Once inside, the building’s interior is easily legible, allowing children to feel secure in their sense of the place. Wrapped in a burnt orange and cream metal-clad exterior are an assortment of interactive spaces, centered on ways in which children perceive the world.

To take advantage of the outdoor scenery indoors, the building features large windows that allow children to see the greenery surrounding the building. Outdoor access is also a central facet of this design, and a therapy garden is in clear site lines from the interior allows for children to safely explore their natural environment.

“One therapist with a lot of experience said, I want this building to be part of my toolkit,” said Johnson. “If you give me a rock, a stick and a table, I can help a kid talk. We really took that to heart. The building is a resource for the teacher. It keeps [occupants] dry, keeps the wind off them, keeps the sun off them, and keeps them dry, and it’s warm and inspiring—and can it be part of the toolkit.”

Johnson describes how the motor room—which is one of the first things a child will walk past when they enter the building—is a great place for therapists to work with children, using the colorful gym and the materials inside it, like climbing walls, to further their therapy.

Several therapy rooms are equipped with color-control lights designed in collaboration with Blanca Lighting, to be used both for general ambiance and therapeutic purposes. Parent-child intensive rooms, bifurcated by a panel of two-way glass, allow for therapists to observe a parent and child and provide training from a distance—giving them much needed privacy.

Pediatric Facility
Large windows allow children, their parents, and their families to see the beautiful scenery on the outside.
Pediatric Facility
Therapists can do their work with children using some of the facility’s fun spaces. (All photos: Lara Swimmer)

Meeting rooms on the North Side of the structure are available for use by those outside the nonprofit, creating a larger system of social cohesion within the community. Johnson explains that community organizations, such as girl scouts or a baseball team, can gain keycard access to certain rooms for their own us. “The building is more than just a private clinic, it can be used at all hours by the community, and that was something Encompass really committed to funding and providing,” he adds.

With 50 therapists and other stationary team members occupying the center on a consistent basis and up to 100 children, parents, and mobile therapy staff rotating daily, the design had to be responsive and durable.

“The therapists have hotel stations, where there are a handful of therapists who work on site every day, and there are a huge number or therapists that work in the field and do home visits,” Johnson explains. “This place is their home base. They come in and do their charting—it is a very adaptable facility that works for the staff.

“The care and concern that [therapists] want to give to the community has doubled since the creation of this facility,” he adds. “That was probably one of the best compliments, that the building exemplifies the care and concern that they have.”

A Team Effort

Adhering to the budget was of upmost importance, as the building was entirely funded by grants and charitable donations. Signal collaborated with the nonprofit team to craft a design narrative and model for Encompass to use during marketing efforts, tangibly displaying to potential donors what their investment would achieve.

Johnson shared that the collaboration between the owner’s representative, the builder and the architect on this project was “magic.” There was a huge amount of trust and respect, and all parties involved were dedicated to its success. Even when facing challenges with the budget, they weren’t “insurmountable because everyone believed in this project.” As a result, the project was successfully completely within budget.

The full list of project partners includes:

  • General Contractor: Abbott Construction
  • Owner’s Representative: OAC Services
  • Structural Engineer: Lund Opsahl
  • Lighting Design: Blanca Lighting
  • Civil Engineer: Goldsmith
  • Landscape Architect: Osborn Consulting
  • Electrical Engineer: TFWB
  • Sustainability: O’Brien 360
  • Professional Photography: Lara Swimmer
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