Kaiser Permanente and CannonDesign imagine a medical school that puts student life first
If you design another type of medical school, will it produce another type of doctor?
This question is at the heart of the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, which opened in July 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. The 50 students in the inaugural class are, by default, part of an experience that hopes to incorporate an education that emphasizes holistic wellness and care, a focus on social justice, and a new vertical campus that embodies these approaches.
The 80,000 square foot school was designed by the Los Angeles office of international architecture and design firm Yazdani Studio of CannonDesign and sits on a corner site just off Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California. . Its four-story facade, a sandwich of glass and concrete panels topped with a sloping shade structure, withstands the easy, quasi-Arts and Crafts contextualism that marks much of new construction in a city that was famous for Greene & Greene. Mehrdad Yazdani, design director at CannonDesign’s national practice and director of CannonDesign’s Yazdani studio, calls the building “an exploratory laboratory in medical education,” noting that unlike many other medical schools, Kaiser Permanente did not have the necessary skills. amenities of a University Campus. Instead, the school is directly in concert with the surrounding urban context.
Spacious double-height, street-level windows lead directly to the ground-floor lobby, where the Bridge (Science of Speed) sculpture by artist Glenn Kaino hangs as part of an art program at the scale of the building. The 45-foot-long artwork features several casts of the arm of runner Tommie Smith, who raised his fist to protest racism and inequality at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
“We are questioning the way medical education is taught,” says Walter Harris, senior vice president of administration and finance at Kaiser Permanente. “Equity, inclusion and diversity are built into the curriculum. A good doctor understands that patients have different lives, but regardless of their cultural background, we want all patients to be seen as the same. “
To this end, the architects wanted to avoid producing a space that gave off intimidating and institutional vibes. They focused on creating openness and transparency between spaces, such as the large atrium at the heart of the building. Classrooms, offices and living rooms open onto this space which is over 50 feet high and connects the other floors by a wide staircase. Towards ground level, this staircase crosses the oak risers of what Yazdani calls the “town hall”, a large auditorium with 250 seats connected to the hall. There are movable partitions to enclose the space for events and conferences, but most of the time it is left open as a sort of informal amphitheater.
Yazdani and his team approached design analytically, rethinking the amount of curriculum required to meet the needs of the administration, the classroom, and the students. Their research found that if typical medical schools allocate 25% to simulating operating room and doctor-patient experiences, that number could be reduced to just 6% on the Pasadena campus.
The design team was able to reduce the simulation areas thanks to the pedagogy of Kaiser Permanente; medical students engage in hands-on clinical training at the organization’s hospitals, which are swarming the state as California is home to Kaiser’s headquarters. The school has invested in new technologies such as augmented reality, which can be seen in the Anatomy Resource Center on the third floor. The space has several laminated corpses, which has reduced the need for wet labs, as well as interactive virtual bodies that can be digitally dissected.
“It’s an evolving model that creates a feedback loop between education and practice, and is responsive to the real world,” says Yazdani. “Because it is not a university campus, we needed multifunctional spaces that could be social spaces but also classrooms, places of rest and contemplation for the students.” A reassessment of administrative and other areas freed up more than 50 percent of the building to be programmed as flexible areas, almost hospitality-like, for students to study, train and even meditate, away from the 8 to 18 percent of “student life” in square feet in the precedents that the designers have dissected. There is an open-air theater and a largely open-air fourth floor gym. In the rooftop cafeteria , floor-to-ceiling windows offer spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains, while a full instructional kitchen provides students with nutrition and healthy eating lessons. “Medical school is extremely busy and stressful. We integrated well-being in space, and there’s plenty of room to decompress, ”says Harris, noting the high rates of depression among medical students.
One of the unexpected benefits of the emphasis on flexibility is how the school has adjusted throughout the pandemic. Learning in small groups, not large lectures, is part of the pedagogy and design, so classrooms could be easily modified for a small, socially distant cohort, and meetings take place in many outdoor spaces. Ultimately, as restrictions on the pandemic ease, up to 200 students will fill the campus. And if the Kaiser Permanente experiment goes as planned, they will grow into 200 physicians who will have learned first-hand the links between health and equity.
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