Jun 29, 2021

Yale’s new medical center blends lighting into nature-themed artwork

By Katie Nale

Architect Svigals + Partners emphasized the humanistic and playful side of healthcare design when tasked with the completion of a facility for the Yale Child Study Center (YCSC) in New Haven, CT. The 55,000-sq ft facility, which houses intensive-outpatient services on its first floor, patient care and family support services on its second, and administrative and research offices on the third, utilizes a design that puts its corridors and gathering spaces on display.

Filled with artwork inspired by nature, these areas are used as celebratory spaces that counterbalance the clinical aspects of the building. “Our strategy was to take advantage of any opportunity to make the building more human-centered,” recalls associate principal Lynn Brotman (New Haven, CT), who led the project and its lighting design.

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Alongside project manager and associate Brian Stancavage (New Haven, CT), Brotman spent two years working on all aspects of the space—from initial planning studies to the final art installations. “We allowed the existing architecture to inform the programming and design solutions by locating the second floor waiting room and ‘main street’ corridor in the spaces where the ceiling could be raised, and placing circulation in areas where the new window openings introduce natural daylight,” she recalls. The building made for a challenging renovation as there were limited options for where to raise ceilings. “The fun came in as we referenced back to the initial theme of biophilia introducing nature into every element,” says Brotman.

This theme is evident from the second children and families arrive at YCSC and are greeted by a colorful overhead installation depicting a shimmering school of fish. The sculpture—curated by Nancy Samotis of Art for Healing Environments, LLC—is located above stairs that lead up from the double-height lobby to the main waiting area. Four LED spotlights illuminate the fish, without taking any attention away from the art piece.

Decorative cylinder-shaped fixtures in the waiting room serve a similar purpose, blending in seamlessly with an overhead installation of white curvilinear acoustic panels hung below a blue ceiling. The resulting “sky” extends out from a full-height tree sculpture composed of brown and green wood veneer and laminate that hides a structural column. The luminaires hang amongst the white-paneled “branches,” illuminating the structure without distracting from it. Combined with natural wood-finished reading nooks and a color palette of greens, blues and browns, the waiting room is designed to reduce stress and welcome people into the healing environment.

Beyond the waiting room, nature-themed wayfinding elements can be found throughout the halls in names for exam and treatment rooms (e.g., “Forest A-227”), while ornamental light-boxes use bold geometric patterns to illuminate and emphasize artwork, rather than act as stand-out pieces. Soft overscaled drum fixtures blend into a ceiling reminiscent of bark on a tree, while large circular luminaires create a sense of unity over geometric seating areas. Smaller family waiting rooms in treatment wings also feature thematic finishes, such as built-in banquettes, pouf seating and patio furniture to emphasize the connection to the outdoors.

Aside from helping to create a welcoming environment, lighting aids the Center’s behavioral work and research. “We began this project with extensive programming and workshops involving all the various departments of the Yale Child Study Center who would be using the space,” recalls Stancavage who worked with Brotman to set the goal of creating a space that matched the energy and quality of the work the center does to help children and their families. These initial meetings and workshops helped Brotman and Stancavage to understand the process and patientcare flow and to find commonality in the clinicians’ support services and space needs.

“The client knew that the atmosphere can change drastically with the color temperature. Every clinical session is different, therefore having the ability to program and control the lighting during sessions without a change in color temperature was important,” Stancavage recalls. “Lighting is an important aspect to Yale in this building due to the function it provides in a clinical setting. We worked closely with the users to ensure that the level of controllability they required throughout the building was at their fingertips.”


Katie Nale

Katie Nale