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Design Talk: True Family Women's Cancer Center

We don't often get the chance to write about "good causes" in the world of architectural design. That's why we were stoked when we heard about the opening of the True Family's Women's Cancer Center, a new wing inside the Swedish Medical Center. Curbed Seattle chatted with with Brad Hinthorne, one of the leading designers of Perkins+Will to get the inside scoop on this one-of-a-kind facility that caters to the needs of recently diagnosed women and their families.

What's the story behind the True Family Women's Cancer Center?

BH: The vision for True Family Women’s Cancer Center was inspired by the leadership of the Swedish Cancer Institute over 10 years ago. The idea behind it was driven by improving outcomes (allowing surgeons to be adjacent to radiologists in order to create a comprehensive treatment plan, etc.) and making it easier for patients to access the services they needed (see your surgeon, stop at the education center, visit the social worker or financial counselor with your family, find a wig if needed, talk to a genetic counselor, and so on) without driving and walking all over the campus.

How did the design aesthetic of Perkins+Will lend itself to designing the True Family Women's Cancer Center?

BH: The design vision was very clear. We were hired to create a haven of support for women who were recently diagnosed with cancer and their families. Initial driving descriptors included that the center be non-institutional, calming, and stress-reducing. We used that direction to create a warm space with natural materials and soft forms and integrated lighting, art, and signage.

So when you planned the design of this new wing, what was the main focus?

BH: The main focus of the planning was to accommodate and integrate as many services as possible within the center and within the available square footage. After planning the center in two other buildings, where it would have been on a single floor, it was decided that the center was to be located on two floors within the existing cancer institute (which resides on the lower 7 floors of an existing 13-story building).

The existing building has a very narrow floor plate which allowed us to get more daylight into the space than we would have been able to do on a single floor with a larger floor plate. In addition, we were to utilize curvilinear forms to soften the feel of the space and create a comforting and enveloping environment while maintaining a more rectilinear geometry in the clinical spaces to optimize functionality and efficiency.

What kind of materials did you use for this project?

BH: The Wall of Hope was made of salvaged big leaf maple fabricated by Meyer Wells, local wood experts, and is engraved with the names of the donors of project. The extensive wood paneling was elm veneer from a single elm tree and the wood ceiling is FSC certified Hemlock. All materials, adhesives and paints used were low VOC. We were able to improve the energy efficiency of the center by putting solar control film over existing single pane windows. We also used a lot of art glass from Pulp Studio.

Did making the women-focused cancer wing more "female-friendly" play a factor into the design preparation?

BH: Our primary goal was to create an environment that is less institutional, less clinical, and more calming than traditional healthcare environments. Many of the services provided are also for families and there are physicians in the Center who also see male patients, so it is not meant to be overly feminine. There was a very clear directive from the beginning that it was not to be pink.

What has excited you most about this project?

BH: The Center was a labor of love over several years for a lot of people who are incredibly committed to both the cause and design of this space. To know that our work made a difference in the very difficult work they do every day is incredibly rewarding.