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High-Performance Design — Centering the Community

December 08, 2022
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As we move toward a zero-carbon future in the built environment, high-performance design strategies position healthcare facilities for long-term resiliency in an ever-changing climate.

As the first LEED platinum healthcare building in Ohio, the UH Ahuja Center for Women and Children embodies equity and resilience, in both the programming of space and the approachable scale of the structure. Designed as a destination for health, the building carefully considers its context and the historically marginalized clinical care experiences of the Black community. To position itself as a haven where people are seen, heard, and valued as a whole person — the UH Ahuja Center provides critical access to services beyond medical care, addressing adverse conditions faced by low-income residents.

Thoughtful Consumption

The new facility embodies resilience in a modest footprint. In addition to utilizing passive design strategies, the building features a high-performance building envelope, producing an EUI of 67. The façade utilizes less than 40% glass, while solar panels generate onsite renewable energy — 30 percent of the facility’s needed power — leading to a 45 percent reduction in overall energy costs as compared to baseline

Materials were sourced regionally to minimize embodied carbon and responsible project planning achieved an 88% diversion rate of construction and demolition waste.

Promoting Holistic Well-Being

Because children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to environmental health hazards, University Hospitals prioritized optimizing indoor air quality and reducing the environmental footprint of the center. To optimize indoor air quality, materials such as flooring and furniture are compliant with the Healthier Hospitals’ Healthy Interiors initiative and whenever possible, sourced regionally to minimize embodied carbon. In a neighborhood disproportionately affected by poor air quality, reducing the center’s energy consumption doesn’t just impact building performance, it also reduces atmospheric pollution and the associated health implications for residents.

University Hospitals believe the social, environmental, and health disparities facing societies’ most vulnerable people must be treated as interrelated factors that affect a person’s holistic health. To determine which resources and programs to offer in the new Ahuja enter, UH launched a Community Advisory Board, including more than 70 members representing 35 different organizations, as well as community residents, patients, and families.

Informed by stakeholder input, the building offers onsite access to dietitians, dental services, a pharmacy, financial planning, and legal assistance. The adjacent site offers access to fresh food and cooking classes, with free-produce distribution weekly. In addition to community services, UH relocated key health services from University Hospital’s main campus to the new Ahuja Center, imbedding the facility directly into the community it serves.

Fostering Equitable Health Outcomes

The center is an investment in the social and environmental resilience of the Hough neighborhood. Decades of economic downturn and social unrest framed the community as an area in decline. The new center flips the script, by investing critical resources into the community and securing a vibrant future for women and children. The center positions health equity as the foundation for design, reimagining what a healthcare facility can do for an entire community. Historically, people of color face marginalization and discrimination in healthcare settings. These experiences contribute to staggering mortality rates among communities of color and increase distrust of caregivers by patients. The new building embodies equity, through thoughtful design choices and community-selected program offerings, the facility is a space where patients feel empowered, cared for, and valued.

The building design is responsive to its context, yielding to the street and gently inviting people toward it with a transparent façade and accessible entryway. The design team balanced patient privacy with building transparency, in a façade that maximizes natural light and thermal efficiency. Primarily serving women and children, the facility is scaled for children and offers moments of delight with floor tiles that change pattern under footsteps, located in waiting spaces and exam rooms. Emphasis on community, visibility, and safety was forefront in the design. A native landscape, green roof, and living wall aim to restore this urban area overwhelmed by manufactured landscape and support biophilic design principles.

Since its opening, the two adjacent brownfields are now home to a grocery store, teaching kitchen, pharmacy, commercial space for offices, start-up companies and not-for-profit organizations, catalyzing the street as a hub for community gathering. The project is a model example of how one project can have a ripple effect on an entire community.