The healthy Ochsner Center
There is a new building taking shape in New Orleans that fits perfectly with two very pressing issues: the new Ochsner Center for Innovation will be devoted to developing modern healthcare solutions. The project, which has already won numerous awards, is geared wholly towards sustainability.
The year 2020 clearly demonstrated the importance of medical research. At the same time, the threat of climate change hangs over a pandemic-riven world. Both of these make any project concerned with both healthcare and environmental protection all the more interesting. One such project is the Ochsner Center for Innovation currently being built in New Orleans and designed by Trahan Architects. As the headquarters of US healthcare company Ochsner’s “iO” innovation group, it will be a centre for developing state-of-the-art healthcare. With its sustainable, future-oriented design, it has chalked up several awards even before completion.
High-tech medical research
The new, ultra-modern Ochsner Center for Innovation provides a space for the company and its partners to work together efficiently. Its main areas of focus include digital solutions, precision medicine and analytics for ideal healthcare. The corresponding facilities are also the centrepieces of the plan that high-profile firm Trahan Architects designed for the new building. For instance, there is a “maker space” for developing new technologies. And also a prototype laboratory with a true-to-scale mockup room and virtual reality laboratory in which innovations can be put to the test.
Needless to say, there will be flexible office spaces and areas for collaboration. And the new Ochsner Center will also have a training centre where conferences, job training, business assistance programmes, educational seminars and other events will be held.
Focus on sustainability
The complex is being built on a 3,400 m² site on the Jefferson Highway from New Orleans to Winnipeg and is scheduled for completion in 2021. As emphasized by Trahan Architects, sustainability was a key factor even in the planning stage: “We knew right from the start that the client wanted a very transparent building with large glazing.”
With this in mind, studies were conducted on building mass, height, location, reachability and position relative to the sun: “We were careful to iterate the geometries in such a way that the glazing is either facing north completely or is shaded for most of the year.”
Bright and green
The architects also viewed the natural surroundings as an integral part of the project. The new Ochsner Center headquarters is divided into blocks. Its long sides stretch from east to west and the building tracts are separated by courtyards to ensure that the rooms inside receive as much daylight as possible. This concept also includes an outside area that can be used for various events and activities.
The interior courtyards also make the Ochsner Center for Innovation look less massive, which is sure to find favour with the people who live in the residential building that borders the site to the west. To the east of the new building complex is a 14-storey high-rise hospital that dwarfs everything around it. The innovation centre will be a kind of transparent “stepping stone” between this and the residential area. And its dynamically shaped appearance surrounded by greenery will not affect the residents’ quality of living.
Researching the research centre
It is not only the new building’s future users who are developing auspicious innovations. With their client’s approval, the planners also conducted extensive research beforehand, mainly in the field of building systems, local ecology and material selection.
As the architects report, the client was closely involved in the planning process: “We realized that the client wasn’t aiming for a LEED certification as such, but wanted a design that would at least comply with this standard.” In other words, the LEED process was used as a “framework” for determining the best solutions for all parts of the building, the site and the surrounding area.
All of which has clearly borne fruit: the Ochsner Center for Innovation is surrounded by native, low-maintenance greenery that provides a valuable habitat for insects and wild animals. More than 30 new trees have been planted to provide shade and biotopes for using and managing rainwater. Photovoltaic systems will be installed on the sloping roof, allowing energy to be generated on location. And the deliberately “stacked” building is designed so that extensions can be built on easily at a later stage.
An ideas workshop at the Ochsner Center
The lobby in the atrium doubles as an attractive entrance to the building and a hallway leading to the first-floor classrooms. A projecting concrete staircase element in the foyer serves as a meeting place for social interaction and communication.
Future users will find workstations, lunch rooms and co-working zones in the open office spaces on levels two and three. Apart from floor-to-ceiling glazing, the reduced palette of materials includes polished concrete floors, glass, plasterboard walls and textile acoustic panels.
The outside of the innovation centre is clad with anodized aluminium panels. With its metallic “shell”, which gently reflects the sky and the landscape, the Ochsner Center looks pleasantly unassuming in spite of its size. Almost like a promise for the future that echoes the Trahan team’s guiding principle: “Architecture is about people”.
The extensive planning work by the prominent US firm has clearly paid off already. In 2020, the Chicago Athenaeum and European Center, which jointly present prestigious awards every year, singled out the Ochsner Center for not one but two prizes: the American and the International Architecture Award. What is more, the jury for the Architecture Master Prize 2020 gave the project a special mention and the studio won an AIA Honor Award.
Impressive results for the team led by philanthropist and studio founder Victor F. “Trey” Trahan III, whose firm was named top US office of the year (Design Category) by ARCHITECT 50 in 2019. When asked how he perceived architecture, Trahan observed: “It’s beyond buildings, right? It’s about arriving at a place where you believe that architecture can create or result in an attitude of kindness…. Architecture has a voice in that.” A statement that sounds like hope. Particularly in these challenging times.
Text: Elisabeth Schneyder
Images: Trahan Architects