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Improving Health

HKS Maregatti Interiors designs a new space for Ascension Health that aims to support the ministries of today with the interiors of the future.

By Elianne Halbersberg

HKS Maregatti Interiors designs a new space for Ascension Health that aims to support the ministries of today with the interiors of the future.

As the largest Catholic and nonprofit healthcare system in the United States, Ascension Health provides shared resources—including call center space, supply chain, finance, accounting and human resource support—for up to 34 entities across the country. In an effort to support of all of these different missions, as well as the organization’s rapid growth, Ascension collaborated with design firms BSA LifeStructures and HKS Maregatti Interiors to create a new space that would engage employees and set a collaborative tone in the office.

“They wanted a place that would recruit additional ministries,” says Lisa Tillman, interior designer with HKS Maregatti. “Our design is flexible for when they gain or replace ministries, as well as becoming a new design aesthetic for additional service centers moving forward.”

“All of these people were in many different locations, so it brings all the groups together,” adds Scott McFadden, design director with HKS Maregatti. “This is an alpha site for a new approach to their work.”

The resulting 93,500-square-foot facility, called the Ascension Health Ministry Services Center (AHMSC) opened in December 2011, and involved the extensive renovation of an existing building—including the gutting and redesigning of the first floor/lobby area, and the fourth, fifth and sixth floors (The building’s second and third floors are already occupied by other tenants.)

With a mandate to help unify and strengthen Ascension’s disparate parts, HKS Maregatti began by building a colorful, open staircase connecting the three upper floors, which had previously been closed off from one another. “We wanted to have a focal piece that would link the floors together as much as possible and create as much collaboration as possible throughout the building,” says McFadden.

The first floor now features a multi-space conference center that opens into one large area. It also functions as an emergency location, if needed, for all of the departments. On each of the upper floors, work areas are divided into “neighborhoods,” identified by unique color palettes: lime green for the focus rooms, magenta for the conference areas, teal/aqua for the teaming areas, and orange with Western red cedar wood for the fifth-floor café, which offers a number of gathering spaces as well. “It’s a great social hub, and people can work anywhere in the building in lots of different environments,” says McFadden. A three-story wall blends the colors and connects the fourth, fifth and six floors.

The colors were inspired by the AHMSC globe logo and based on research about the effect of colors in the workplace. “We wanted colors that were uplifting and inspiring, and created a dynamic workspace that made end-users feel comfortable and want to be at work,” says Tillman. “We did some research on how color affects human emotion. Aqua promotes communication, magenta is supposed to evoke relaxation and contentment, orange increases enthusiasm and creativity, and green stimulates individual growth.”

Each floor also features a collaboration center powered by Steelcase’s media:scape technology platform located directly in the center of the workstations, blurring the lines between departments within the neighborhoods, and allowing for staffing growth. The floors have also been equipped with enclosed focus rooms where individuals can work privately. Workstations and collaborative furniture provided by Steelcase are color-coordinated to match each neighborhood.  

Spatial flexibility was a key component in the floor plan, as Ascension needed a space that could accommodate a growing number of employees. Designers and executives eventually settled on a system based on the concept of hoteling, where staff work at available stations—some mobile, some docked—instead of receiving an assigned desk.

“That’s working well for them right now, but we had to design for that knowing how many end-users are going to be mobile and how many are going to be stationary once they’re at full capacity,” notes Tillman.

And while the open plan office has become the future of the corporate office environment (if not the present), it can be a challenge to transition employees accustomed to private offices to the new paradigm. In an effort to help reduce ambient noise within the open plan, the design team with HKS Maregatti installed a sound masking system.

“It creates an almost constant white noise to distract from some of the open conversations,” says Tillman. “They also have the focus booths where people can go to a quiet atmosphere. Those booths still have glass, so they are not closed out from the rest of the neighborhood.

“We’ve had positive feedback from the design and a lot of people are attracted to the space,” she adds. “Ascension realizes that this is where the office environment is going and this is how people are working today, so I think they’re very pleased with it.”

Ascension Health
4600 Edmundson Road
St. Louis, MO 90245
(314) 733-8000

Project TEAM
HKS Maregatti Interiors
9365 Counselors Row #112
Indianapolis, IN 46240
(317) 805-3975

BSA LifeStructures
9365 Counselors Row
Indianapolis, IN 46240
(317) 819-7878