Warm, comforting and serene is not how cancer treatment centres are typically described. But then, the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC is far from typical. Doctor David Agus, the clinic’s founding director, “wants to change ‘the soil of the body’ so cancer can’t find a home anymore,” says Melanie Freeland, studio director at RIOS, the multidisciplinary Los Angeles firm responsible for the interiors of the method-busting centre that focuses on patient-forward cancer prevention, care and research.
Agus’s “audacious” goal — combined with RIOS’s adept understanding of how “good design can support a desired narrative” — has resulted in a prime example of what modern-day healthcare could be. Occupying the top three levels of a five-storey building (recently completed by New York-based HLW), the 7,803-square-metre institute is defined by an exceptional amount of natural light, biophilic interventions and a residential-meets-hospitality aesthetic. Supporting both visiting patients and full-time staff that work in the space (which includes treatment rooms and offices, labs for researchers and fellowships, a pharmacy, teaching kitchen, history of medicine museum, conference rooms for public lectures and events, 325 square metres of outside terraces and more), the hard-working facility is intentionally the antithesis of institutional.
Thanks to glazing on three sides, light permeates the interiors — an attribute RIOS harnessed to full effect with an open atrium that spans all three levels, providing a strong visual connection from one floor to the next. “The notion of transparency is very important to the institute,” notes Freeland. “Patients are not passive participants in the research, but get to see it firsthand.” To that end, each tier is arranged around an internal pathway or “threshold” that acts as “connective tissue between the labs and the public areas.” This arrangement encourages movement and serendipitous encounters between patients, practitioners and researchers — public-facing labs on the fourth floor are fronted with glass walls to allow views in, for example.
Throughout, richly toned Thermory wood elements, loungey upholstered furnishings and modern artworks (donated from the private collection of the institute’s benefactor and namesake, Lawrence J. Ellison) harmonize beautifully and bring the medical clinic to a human and accessible level. The entire idea behind the institute, according to Freeland, was to take away as many indicators of sickness as possible and emphasize wellness and healing. It’s a successful testament to how thoughtful design can bring hope to healthcare settings.
In Los Angeles, RIOS’s patient-forward design promotes healing at a cancer treatment clinic.