A look around UC's College of Medicine's CARE/Crawley Building

A new front door to the UC College of Medicine is one of Cincinnati's most interesting spaces.

Step inside the soaring glass atrium of the CARE/Crawley building with the zig-zagged translucent glass hallways that hang above, and for a moment, you forget where you are.  A man sits on a serpentine wooden bench reading from a Kindle, while students sprawl out with laptops and textbooks in study huts among swaths of tall bamboo. It certainly doesn't feel like a medical school building. Or at least, the way we used to think of medical buildings.
University of Cincinnati's new Center for Academic and Research Excellence, known as the CARE/Crawley Building was officially unveiled last fall. Connected to the existing Medical Sciences Building, it provides nearly 240,000 square feet of additional space on the medical campus for research and teaching, and is the new home of the Donald C. Harrison Health Sciences Library.

New research buildings adapt to new education
Features like small areas for collaborative study and internet accessibility are a given in medical school facilities today. But as the education of tomorrow's doctors and researchers evolves, so do the facilities that support it.  The American Association of Medical Colleges reports that many schools are moving beyond long lectures and away from emphasis on memorization, instead focusing on small group study and better access to medical resources online.

The new CARE/Crawley building made the resources and access themselves a focal point.  Essentially gutted and rebuilt, the new Donald C. Harrison Health Sciences Library sits front and center inside the new CARE building. Instead of an enclosed windowless space like a computer lab, its semi-circular glass enclosure allows for more openness and daylighting. John Borntrager, a research associate for the library, says that the new space also has the benefit of allowing greater access and display of materials. "In our former location, the books were stored primarily off-site at the Genome Research Institute in Reading.  All material needed to be specially requested and sent here, making it difficult for many to casually browse or perform research. Now, both the books and journals are freely viewable to everyone."

Greg Braswell is a director of campus building management for the Academic Health Center at the University of Cincinnati. He points out the brown brick exterior of the Medical Sciences Building, where the new building was constructed around the existing structure. "Sometime in the mid-90s, we knew we would have to replace a lot of the infrastructure to the Medical Sciences Building, like the HVAC. That led to the vision that is today the CARE/Crawley building."  And it's built for growth as well. While this year's class of medical students is 168, the facilities were built with future space considerations in mind. Classes and labs were built to hold up to 190 students, though there are many other considerations before growing a class to that size.

In the labs, the intention was to maximize square footage, while also designing a space that was functional, strategic and full of natural light. And environmentally friendly.

LEEDership in Medical Research
Another building trend incorporated more and more frequently in institutional buildings is green design and construction.  The university is in the process of preparing submission for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification by the US Green Building Council for the new building.  Nationwide, there are only a handful of new medical research facilities with the LEED Gold certification.

Some of the environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient features of the building include:
  • Daylight for 75% of space, with daylight views for up to 90% of spaces
  • Rainwater collection
  • Louvered windows to vent the atrium, a non-conditioned space meant to emulate the outdoors
  • White roofs to reduce heat islands
  • Automatic sensors in classrooms, and labs; limited outdoor light pollution
The old building was very much like any institutional building circa 1970.  Enclosed, narrow hallways, and little access to daylight. The increased use of natural light has little downside from a user's or building manager's perspective.  The only adjustments they have had to make is for special clinical trials that need to control the amount of light in the lab.  Movable window shades that look like gigantic vertical blinds can be adjusted within a lab, which allows for more versatility over large windows. Many functional details like this have the added benefit of being unique architectural features as well.

UC also considered lessons learned from recent campus developments. The signature and much-lauded Vontz Molecular Center nearby used interstitial flooring, a new building trend where crawlspace is built in between floors to allow access to mechanical systems. Since laboratories today include a complex system of mechanical, electrical, and technological infrastructure, coordinating maintenance around the essential timing and scheduling of clinical research makes interstitial floors appealing. However, as UC found out, the crawlspace was not accessed very frequently, so the space did not justify the cost.

Service and aesthetics under one roof
The medical campus building plan, like UC's Master Plan, stretches to 2015; the CARE/Crawley facility is just the initial phase. The new investment has already had a great impact in both tangible and intangible ways.  

"This has become the East campus version of Main Street," said Richard Puff, Director of Public Relations for the Academic Health Center.  "In addition to the variety of places  both public and private for study and socializing, it also consolidates services for the students all under one roof, including the library, bookstore, and rec center" and a full-service cafeteria is expected within the next 12 months.  Many parts of the facility feature 24/7 access and the students take full advantage.

"It has really given the school (campus) a renewed vitality… you can see the difference on the faces of the students, staff, and faculty," says Braswell.

John Borntrager would agree.  "Students now come to the library and use it. They sit at the tables or couches and study for hours at a time. The new library really enables people to research for the long durations that medical studying requires."

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Alison Matthews Sampson is a professional writer living in the Cincinnati area. She has worked for the University of Cincinnati in various capacities for nearly 10 years, as an instructor, writer, and program director.

Photography provided by University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
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