Birmingham's New Beacon

The HKS-designed Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children in Birmingham, Alabama sets a new standard for pediatric care by playing with light and color.

by Adam Moore

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As the sun sets over the medical campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the glass panes and colored panels of the Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children (BRHFC) come to life, sparkling in a way that the surrounding brick buildings cannot.

Whether seen from afar—perhaps from the new Railroad Park up on 17th Street—or from one of the several curvilinear bridges that connect the building with the rest of its neighbors, the BRHFC’s colorful exterior represents new hope for families who have had very little of it lately.

Designed by HKS in partnership with architectural firm Giattina Aycock Studio, the BRHFC maintains a sharp focus on light and color within its glass-walled spaces. From the giant skylights in the lobby to the clerestories found in patient bathrooms to the mirror chips in the building’s terrazzo flooring, light is harnessed at every opportunity and quickly put to work, distracting children and uplifting the spirits of everyone else.

For Doug Compton, AIA, principal and senior designer with HKS, the decision to incorporate copious amounts of glass into the design was a no-brainer for reasons of patient and family well-being (“I’m a firm believer in the notion of natural light and views to the outside as a great stress reliever,” he says), but it also helps differentiate the 12-story building from the rest of the UAB campus and ties it to the growing downtown area just a few blocks north.

“This was kind of a major expansion of their facility, and they felt that they needed to begin to establish their own identity,” he says.

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