Few people eagerly go to the doctor. They're either feeling lousy or may fear bad news.
And most doctor's offices and medical buildings haven't done much to try to change that, with many having an uninspired, budget-conscious air about them.
But in recent years, many Lowcountry hospitals have been built new or expanded, and now doctors' offices seem to be following suit with projects that offer far more flair in the public realm.
The new Medical University of South Carolina Specialty Care building off Hungryneck Boulevard in Mount Pleasant as well as the new Charleston ENT office in West Ashley are among the best examples. Both were designed by Stubbs Muldrow Herin Architects Inc.
MUSC's new Mount Pleasant center is designed to look similar to the buildings at its downtown campus — a sort of branding tactic.
The exterior architecture also recognizes that the building will be a focal point in a future urban development now known as Central Mount Pleasant. The facades with several bays, storefronts, overhangs and other details will make more sense once something is built across the brand-new street.
But the building is best experienced from the inside, specifically in its two-story-tall lobby that runs the building's entire length.
“They spent a lot of space and money on the customer side, a little more than traditionally done,” architect Sam Herin says. “This is not something generating revenue ... but you certainly are making for a more pleasant experience.”
The lobby includes a few check-in stations for patients, as well as a cafe and large windows. The upper floor includes a rooftop meeting room and garden that can be seen and entered from the third-floor hall.
The $18 million building also has innovative features to conserve energy, including an ice-storage cooling system designed to use electricity mostly at night, when demand is less and rates are lower.
The new Charleston ENT office off Henry Tecklenburg Boulevard in West Ashley also stemmed from growth and a desire to provide a more comfortable patient experience.
Its exterior design, a mix of yellowish stucco, brick and heat-tempered stainless steel, is inspired by a crab molting — literally shedding an old skeleton for a new one, says architect Jeff Johnston.
That's an apt metaphor for a growing practice. It also makes for a neat trick that increases the building's street presence while allowing its offices and exam spaces to be set farther back on the lot for more quietude.
This new office also features a spacious lobby, including a gradual S-shaped curve, an interior water feature, two children's play areas and a pharmacy.
As with MUSC's building, the grand public space dovetails into a series of handsome but smaller and more private hallways and exam rooms clumped together by medical specialty.
Much of the wood inside Charleston ENT was milled from trees removed from the site, though the building was sited in part to minimize tree loss and currently sits in a wooded area.
Much of the national health care debate has revolved around expanding access and reducing costs, and part of that strategy is to encourage people to take more responsibility for their own care, including visiting the doctor earlier — before their symptoms get worse.
“Health care is changing,” says Craig Kilgore, chief executive office of Charleston ENT. “What we're trying to get across is accessibility and convenience.”
As new medical architecture does more to provide a warmer welcome for patients, the buildings can be part of the cure.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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