The new seven-story Skolnick surgical tower at Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach, Fla., has become a beacon in the Florida landscape, providing the hospital with a beautiful and durable new center for excellence for patient care.
From the beginning, the owner wanted the 340,000 ft² addition to feature an artistic design that inspired the community and maximized the location’s soaring views of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline. “The facility needed to aspire to something beyond a standard patient tower,” says Michael Zensen, project architect for Cannon Design. “And it needed to embrace and take advantage of those powerful vistas.”
Choosing a precast concrete design ensured the project team could deliver that artistic vision, while accommodating many other project goals.
The biggest challenge for this project was the jobsite, Zensen says. “It was an island with finite space, on a working hospital campus that had to remain in top operational form during construction.” The construction team faced constricted access on roads that would be used by construction traffic as well as hospital staff and the patient population, and there was limited staging area and no storage area.
The precast concrete design mitigated the site constraints while giving the designers the flexibility to create a design that would maximize the views. “The fluid nature of precast concrete provides virtually limitless design options,” Zensen says. “The challenge was to use these salient features in a sophisticated and subtle way.”
The best view in town
The designers chose a curved structural design on a narrow, trapezoidal footprint to form a three-dimensional facade with wall panels that curve in plan, section, and elevation. The curved design positions patient rooms toward the scenic views and modulates the interior walkways to eliminate the endless corridor effect while creating efficiency for the floor plate.
From the outside, the panels provide subtle shapes that emerge from and recede into the elevation, with several panels shaped to resemble a visor extending to an apex. “The design doesn’t draw attention to the panels themselves, but it plays with the strong Florida sun to provide relief and to break down the scale of the tower,” Zensen says. “The large ‘sun-shading eyebrow elements’ break up the building and catch the sun’s rays.”
The use of precast concrete also met practical concerns, including the need to withstand hurricane-force winds and rising waters from storms. Zensen notes that precast concrete made it possible to produce a three-dimensional wall panel that could span from column to column and respond to the hurricane resiliency issues. The tower also features a hurricane-resistant roof and windows, reinforced walls, and generators capable of powering the entire campus for over a week.
Creating the design required a tremendous amount of collaboration between the precast producer and the architect throughout design and construction, notes Bruce Bartscher, vice president of operations for Gate Precast. “To accommodate the complex curved design, we had to change the mold for every four panels cast to accommodate the shifting profile on each elevation and level.”
They also had to carefully plan the delivery and assembly of the panels, which weighed more than 60,000 pounds. Because the tower was built adjacent to the operating hospital, an extra-large crane was used to lift the pieces over the building from great distances, says Paul Turley, project manager for Precast Erectors. “The size of the crane added to the congestion of the site.”
Once in place, the erectors had to closely monitor how the lines and edges lined up. “We had to be sure they were aesthetically pleasing while maintaining needed tolerances for other follow-on trades,” Turley says. “The use of precast concrete allowed the flowing and striking lines of the exterior façade, which would have been difficult to achieve with any other material.”