Got a yen for a little zen? Are you looking for a place where you can feel truly centered? Perhaps you need to balance your Chi? Look no farther than Geneva, IL, for a truly healing experience.
Nestled in three former storefronts along this picturesque town’s main retail strip is one of the premier alternative medicine facilities in the Midwest. Developed as a new healthcare model, the Central DuPage Health Integrative Medicine Centre offers clients safe, effective alternative treatment options in a comfortable, feng shui-inspired setting.
The center, which opened in August 2003, is a labor of love for Central DuPage Health officials, who spent five years researching, planning, and building the facility. While this suburban Chicago community health system in DuPage County offered patients a network of traditional medical offices, a hospital, and physicians, it had not addressed the growing market of alternative medicine and wellness.
“It has been a passion of mine and a dream of mine for many years,” says Director JoEllyn Toniolo, who spearheaded the project. “There are not a lot of centers like this in the whole country. We’re doing something really different. We’re on the forefront of where we believe healthcare is headed in the United States.”
Toniolo was hired in February 1999 to begin researching and putting together a program that would address the inclusion of alternative medicine in the Central DuPage Health organization. It took her and the team more than four years to research the use of alternative medicine treatments across the country, determine what would be effective in DuPage County, identify community needs, and most importantly, design the project.
This wasn’t a typical healthcare project, notes Jeffery K. Liggett, director of interior design at Chicago-based Loebl Schlossman & Hackl. Liggett, principal-in-charge on the Integrative Medicine Centre project, says the approach combined a retail/hospitality approach with medical facility design standards to create a unique healing environment that is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between a healthcare office and a posh hotel spa. “It is definitely one of our more artistic healthcare projects,” Liggett says.
The 5,000-square-foot center was designed using feng shui principles, both in circulation and surfaces, to create the ultimate healing atmosphere.
The center’s expansive holistic programming combines the best medical and therapeutic practices from around the world. Patients can, among other things, partake in various movement classes, indulge in massage therapy, practice breathing and meditation exercises, undergo acupuncture, or visit with staff physician Dr. Melissa Young, a board-certified internal medicine physician who has completed a prestigious fellowship with alternative medicine expert and author Dr. Andrew Weil.
To accommodate such a wide range of services in a limited amount of space, the team turned three storefronts on three different levels into the haven the center is today. They achieved this by connecting each level with ramps that move patients from the lowest level of the entrances and reception/retail space to the upper level of “quiet rooms” and treatment areas.
The facility’s layout provides four distinct zones (public, patient prep, treatment, and support) for patients and medical staff. The first three tie into the centre’s goal to provide users with a “healing-oriented” experience, while the fourth zone accommodates the transparent support areas needed for efficient operations. It has eight treatment rooms; a library and tea bar; meditation rooms; space for yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and wellness education; and a shower and dressing area.
“We’ve merged two things – healthcare and services – that pamper you and make you feel good,” Toniolo says. “We give people time. Clients want time. They don’t normally get enough of that in healthcare. When they walk in, we want them to relax. We encourage them to have a cup of tea or read the books in the library before their treatment begins.”
Clients enter the facility through one of two separate entrances that flow into the reception area. As Toniolo says, patients often relax here before treatments, browsing books and literature in the comfortable library or sipping a spot of herbal tea in the beverage café before moving upstairs.
“The design is very deliberate and strives to touch every sense,” Toniolo says. “People walk in and they hear music, smell aromatherapy, and see a beautiful facility. We serve tea for taste. Even the sense of touch is stimulated as people sit on chairs and feel wonderful fabric.”
Once relaxed, they journey up the ascending “decompression path” (ramp) to the dressing area and treatment rooms or venture to the movement studio for a Pilates, yoga, or another soothing, yet beneficial, class. A focal point at the end of the decompression path, a modern interpretation of a tradition Chinese moon gate provides a welcoming transition into the treatment area.
“The original concept of the decompression path was that of a mountain path,” Liggett explains. “It is like going up to the mountains to meditate. It was a benefit that we could change the elevation in the space.”
Self-contained fountains in the reception area, carefully chosen to meet various stringent health and infection control standards, add to the mountain theme, giving the auditory effect of a bubbling mountain stream.
Color and material selections incorporate feng shui’s five elements: wood, earth, water, fire, and metal. Design elements are simple and modern, yet provide a warm and inviting environment for all who walk through the door.
Based on the input from focus groups of potential users in the community, Toniolo and other Central DuPage Health officials realized their customer base was fairly knowledgeable about alternative medicine, as well as the practice of feng shui. “In a healing environment, this was our first total immersion into feng shui,” Liggett says, adding that he had participated in programs at the Harvard Design School on how to design for alternative medicine, including one taught by holistic guru Deepak Chopra.
Custom wood casework, slate flooring, and a nature-inspired palette make the reception area, which consists of the tea bar, library, and retail space, look more like the lobby of a posh spa or hotel than that of a healthcare facility.
All color selections in the facility tie into the five elements, symbolizing different aspects of nature. “The slate blue is our way of getting into the natural sky, while the white nylon ceiling elements gave us the clouds,” Liggett explains. “All of the other materials are natural and rough.”
In the treatment rooms, locker rooms, and quiet areas, the design team specified natural cork floors both for aesthetics and functionality. “We wanted a material in these areas that provided a good acoustic quality, similar to that of carpet or other soft materials, but that was compatible with massage oils and other treatment products,” Liggett says.
And while the various design components used in the center aren’t necessarily what would immediately come to mind in terms of healthcare elements, all of the furniture and fabrics used in the project were part of Central DuPage Health’s Furniture, Furnishings, and Equipment Standards program.
Liggett says the program is specific only to Central DuPage and is administered by its in-house facility design staff and a local furniture and furnishings dealership. All other construction materials were left to the discretion of the Loebl Schlossman & Hackl design team for review by the hospital’s facility maintenance staff.
The end result works.
“People have told me that the energy in the space is very soothing and healing,” Toniolo says. “People just like to be in it. And, it’s a great place to work.”
Robin Suttell (firstname.lastname@example.org), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.