INITIAL UPMC PROJECT BRIEF – AND C.J. FALCONER & ASSOCIATES’ PROPOSAL & APPOINTMENT:
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) operates over 40 hospitals worldwide with more than 8,500 beds, 700 doctors’ offices, and over 90,000 employees – with centres of excellence in transplantation, cancer, neurosurgery, psychiatry, rehabilitation, geriatrics and women’s health. In Q2 of 2020, following an international review of the established UPMC operational sites worldwide, ‘UPMC Ireland’ were successful in securing the establishment of the new ‘Global Technology Operations Center (GTOC)’ in Ireland – a decision based on the technological and innovative characteristics we offer as a nation.
This project’s brief emphasised the need to address the advanced technological requirements of the envisaged facility – essential as the workplace would act as a global ‘Nerve Centre’ for UPMC operations worldwide – whilst also requiring an educated and innovative design response to mitigate the impact of traditional and future-focused workplace health and safety considerations – including: the practical effects of the current (and potential future) pandemic risks, the client’s choice of location within what is a Protected Structure (and also within a great shopping centre facility), and providing a workplace that, by the nature of the very client as a medical institute, nurtures a culture focused on the wellness of staff.
UPMC consequently approached ourselves, C.J. Falconer & Associates (CJFA), to undertake their new GTOC project – based on our portfolio of previous cross-sector projects, and attributes as a design, technical, and innovation-led, award-winning architectural practice. CJFA’s extensive previous ‘workplace’ experience and track-record of fit-out projects for both national and international organisations – always delivered through collaborative approaches with clients, and often requiring proactive transcontinental communication – was also fundamental in securing the project.
In addition to our intent to create a unique spatial identity, our proposal emphasised our ongoing commitment that all projects should be met with ‘human-centred design’, strict adherence to cost-control, openness to developing technologies, and upholding our reputation in the delivery of programme-sensitive projects. These commitments find their foundations on CJFA’s strong project management, client-collaboration, and the presentation of clearly conveyed visions of the project (assisted by the rapid delivery of 3D visualisations at design stage, that are easily understood by both technical, and non-technical stakeholders). These approaches saw CJFA appointed for the delivery of UPMC’s GTOC project, in Q3 2020.
COLLABORATIVE EVOLUTION OF THE BRIEF, AND EXECUTING ON THE VISION:
Based on our experience of delivering workplaces, UPMC invited CJFA to scrutinise their initial requirements, and to assist UPMC in terms of evolving the initial brief, in order to achieve a more articulated and refined project purpose and collaborative design strategy. This was championed by the newly appointed UPMC CIO, Ms. Joanne Fanning, who, from an early stage, saw the value in our architecture-led approach, via early design and orientation proposals, and key early visualisations (created via BIM, and Revit software) presented to the client – and how these considered approaches could be used as a tool to positively impact the health and wellbeing of the UPMC personnel who would occupy and utilise the space now, and into the future.
Consequently, the initial brief was expanded to include a coordinated mission to establish a ‘Centre of Excellence in Digitalisation’. With this aspiration came a greater emphasis on creating an agile and collaborative workplace, that is also a case study for real change and adaption – and in tandem with this intent, came an enhanced appreciation by UPMC for a variety of design features which we recommended, including a user-focused approach through creation of a mix of spaces (open-plan, collaborative, cellular, and pods); visually-striking and adaptive spatial installations (both built and prefabricated); an overall project specification which would provide for longevity and a high-quality finish; and the intention to include features that subtly showcased the ‘adaptive reuse’ nature of the Protected Structure, and continued life through adoption of sustainable materials.
CJFA’s design approach incorporated a unique overall architectural intent, intended to echo the contemporary ethos of how UPMC wished to approach their working environments moving forward – to arrange a safe, and motivational, working space – that is both inviting and inspiring to staff, whilst promoting a positive working culture.
The specific ambition for the project was to create a transparent, interconnected atmosphere, which was nurtured by the inclusion of cellular areas, and bespoke freestanding timber framed pods, mixed with collaborative and open-plan working spaces. Both the general spaces and canteen space also benefit from a number of dispersed step-back spaces, for those moments when privacy (professional or personal) is required. These spaces can also operate as informal working, meeting, or break-out areas. The environments have been designed to promote the ‘Wellness’ of staff – and were developed through the exploration of layouts, materials, colour, high-quality installations and motivating interventions, and orientation, temperature, and lighting evolved in-line with circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycle modulated by external cues such as sunlight and temperature). A number of bespoke artwork feature walls occur at staggered stages through the building – often referencing local heritage, and the historic nature of the building the offices now find themselves in, through artistically evolved historic photographs and digital collages. The adaptive reuse of the historic nature of the building also included the use of existing ‘roof turrets’ to accommodate the HVAC ductwork installation via open louvres, which negated any intervention on the character of the building, while offering the contemporary ‘open plenum’ aesthetic.
These spaces are permeated throughout by high-quality, and certified sustainable materials and finishes – which are practical, robust, suitable for the specific application and accented by choice colour-selections (chosen for their psychological properties, creating a unique identity for the GTOC development, but while also being consistent with the UPMC International Brand where required). Acoustic characteristics were also considered of paramount importance to ensure a pleasurable and productive working atmosphere, and all built and / or installed elements were upgraded from baseline standards, to achieve 50db+ in all instances. The upgraded acoustic properties operate in parallel with other acoustic treatments, including acoustic-ceiling treatments (baffles and panels), in conjunction with absorbing wall, floor and furniture finishes. Technical regulations, and health and safety requirements – including the ‘workplace’ regulations to assess the user occupancy comfort and limitations of the designated spaces – were of course fully adhered to, and informed the design development throughout.
Healthy Spaces & Services Installations: HVAC systems (heating, ventilation & air conditioning) as installed, were assessed and augmented to ensure the technology of indoor & vehicular environmental comfort is operating at the optimum level within the individual spaces to provide thermal comfort and safe, acceptable, indoor air quality – particularly important in current times with consciousness for COVID. These systems have been further augmented by the choice of floor finish, Desso AirMaster, a specialist carpet tile which extracts dust & contaminants from the air within the internal environment and holds these contaminants within the specifically tailored fabric weave, which is then simply hoovered out. In tandem lighting levels have been articulated to enhance / provide continuity in the availability of natural light, with consideration to circadian rhythms to ensure employee productivity and well-being whilst maintaining a focus on energy savings via full LED installations and improved operational efficiency. ‘Handsfree’ sanitaryware systems were installed to maintain a clean, hygienic working environment. These installations are also controlled via ‘Contactless’ Bluetooth technology, and programmable through digital app controls to fully adjust the water usage to suit the needs of the user and allow for energy / water saving modes.
Addressing Protected Structure Site Issues: The existing single-glazed historical window openings at groundfloor level were located adjacent to busy / noisy external areas, namely both the food court & service yard, of the greater shopping centre facility the office is located within. Acoustic issues were successfully addressed via the Conservation-sensitive introduction of an internal layer of frameless acoustic glass, located on the innermost side of the existing fabric – this remedied the noise transfer from the adjacent external areas, without visual impact to the Protected Structure. The existing timber floors were found to have extensive irregularities and level indifference. These issues were addressed through the incorporation of a proprietary floating sub-floor system which was laid on top of the existing timber floors to provide consistency in terms of the finished level, prior to the final floor finish being installed. This intervention also provided enhanced safety and an ergonomic under-foot benefit.
Use of BIM for Design Evolution, and Client Collaboration: CJFA developed the correct solution for the project’s unique requirements by exploring different options through the visualisation of alternative layouts, work-areas’ orientations, equipment-location, and the choice of materials, installations, & finishes, in pre-construction BIM 3D visualisations. The benefits of delivering the project in BIM, is that key facility requirements, orientation, layouts, and brand/cultural decisions, can be explored at the initial design stage – through rapidly created 3D renders and videos that are easily understood by both technical, and non-technical stakeholders – to assist key decision making, with flexibility, and speed, and immediately applying client feedback. The built result is wholly consistent with the digital design representations.
Programme & Design Process: Based on programme requirements, the project moved immediately from our appointment in Q3 2020 to the Design Phase, which required close collaboration with both Local & International Leadership Teams to ensure that collective operational requirements were achieved from the outset. Early in the design process, it was determined that the project was to be undertaken in 2 Phases in order to accommodate the establishment of operations in the swiftest manner possible whilst facilitating the ‘employment campaign’ to create 60+ highly skilled, new permanent roles in Ireland. Phase 1 commenced on-site February 2021, and was completed by June 2021 – Phase 2 commenced on-site June 2021, and is in-progress towards a Q4 2021 completion. The ‘essential support services’ status of the GTOC project as a health-focused project, associated with the timely requirement to control a global network of healthcare services from a single technological hub, permitted the project to commence on-site with haste, in full compliance with COVID-19 stipulations / directives in terms of construction activities. All necessary COVID-19 / CIF safety protocols, in addition to further mitigating measures were implemented and strictly adhered to throughout the construction process, which successfully contributed to a successfully planned and non-impacted construction programme. The impact of COVID-19 on traditional regular ‘face to face’ dialogue during the design process was mitigated through regular ‘Microsoft Teams’ meetings and design workshops which permitted a collaborative design process. This process was also combined with CJFA undertaking this project entirely in BIM, which was of great benefit in the articulation of the space and the proposals concerned, whilst also allowing the presentation at design stages, of 3D visualisations that were a true representation of the ‘end-product’, as all elements reflect a very real interpretation of the finished product.
Site Issues: In addition to the above noted Protected Structure – there were additional challenges which evolved from the chosen location for the development being comprised of numerous, adjacent vacant units located within a historical and ‘Protected’ building – the Kilkenny City Union Workhouse Complex (built 1840-1841, NIAH Reg. No. 12006001), MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre, Kilkenny. CJFA are also RIAI Conservation G3 Architects, which permitted an educated understanding and appreciation of the existing fabric, and elements which required a more sensitive and articulated design approach – in terms of respect for and / or avoidance of existing installations or areas. The existing, exposed timber trusses received a ‘soft touch’ clean to maintain the historical narrative and character in the open ceilings. The existing ‘roof turrets’ were utilised internally to accommodate the HVAC ductwork installation via the open louvres, which negated any intervention on the character of the building. Exposed ductwork and services routes were thoroughly articulated to ensure an elegant representation throughout all areas. Particular consideration was required in terms of the statutory fire requirement to incorporate a full ‘sprinkler’ system in addition to the set-out of the overall services installation within the exposed historical timber trusses and open ceilings.