The COVID-19 pandemic nixed in-person collaborations, but the joint ‘City of Health’ effort is still off to a wonderful start.
In a unique effort that bolstered the University’s footprint in Israel, a team of architecture and industrial design students and faculty spent the spring semester working, in an international design studio, to envision concepts for Sheba Medical Center’s “City of Health” initiative.
Under the leadership of the Jefferson Institute for Smart and Healthy Cities, the project was launched at the start of the spring semester and was supposed to culminate with Jefferson students traveling to Israel and then a final design presentation with Israeli students and faculty at Jefferson in May.
The COVID-19 pandemic nixed those latter plans, due to safety concerns. However, the work proceeded apace, and ideas were presented virtually. They received rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Without spending time with us, the results were amazing,” says Tal Einhorn, Sheba’s head architect, who led a studio class to address real-life challenges faced at the esteemed Israeli institute. “We’re really grateful. It went beyond our expectations and we see it as quite an achievement.
“It was a thrilling experience and collaboration,” Einhorn continues. “Despite the challenges, we worked as a team, and the Jefferson students really grabbed the essence of what Sheba is all about.”
The effort—which also involved Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art—came about after a trip to Israel organized by Dr. Mark Tykocinski, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at Jefferson, and Dr. Zvi Grunwald, executive director of the Jefferson Israel Center. On that trip, various faculty members from multiple Jefferson colleges visited potential partner institutions.
Dr. Tykocinski puts this student project into context.
“Our 2017 University merger, by bridging design and health, now powers just this type of collaborative effort,” he says. “This project showcases how the frontiers of industrial and architectural design can creatively intersect with the emerging 21st century healthcare landscape.
“The opportunity for our students to work with one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, not to mention a stand-out healthcare innovation hub within Israel’s robust start-up ecosystem, was significant—and they certainly rose to the occasion. That our students could pull this off remotely, for partners on another continent at a pandemic moment, is truly impressive.”
Among the objectives were promoting “aging-in-place” concepts and products, developing master plans for the campus’s physical future, marrying Sheba to its surrounding community, and bolstering public transportation and walkability over driving personal vehicles on campus.
I hope that the students feel as good as we feel about the results, which were amazing, beautiful and original. –Tal Einhorn
“This epitomizes the type of Jefferson-Israel partnership that Dr. Tykocinski and I are trying to cultivate in the design and health spaces, with an emphasis on education,” says Dr. Grunwald of the effort. “It’s all about bringing the community to the center.
“They’re calling it the City of Health, so Jefferson students’ work was guided by two overarching concepts: making it artistic and functional. Dr. Tykocinski was a very strong proponent of the project. We’re so ecstatic with how it turned out.”
Einhorn, who proudly notes that Newsweek ranked Sheba as the ninth best hospital in the world, says that the students’ conceptual ideas could eventually guide how Sheba moves forward with the City of Health concept. While architecture needs clearly differ between Israel and America, the “international language of engineering and design in a healing environment” shined through.
“In all of the projects, it was a vision of the future,” says Einhorn, noting that Jefferson proposals will be shared in an exhibition so that Sheba’s staff members can see it with their own eyes. “We will eventually benefit from the novel ideas and different perspectives. It was very evident, in every way, that the students did phenomenal work. They brought fresh eyes from their own perspectives.
“I hope that the students feel as good as we feel about the results, which were amazing, beautiful and original. This is the first step, with other opportunities for collaboration, and we will do more and more together to have an impact on the world of health.”
The Jefferson effort centered on “presenting creative solutions, from the build space down to the level of the individual patient” and included “solutions to real-life challenges at the Sheba Medical Center for patients, health care teams, visitors and the community.”
At the helm were Edgar Stach, professor of the College of Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), and Eric Schneider, industrial design professor within the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce.
Michael Leonard, dean for the School of Design and Engineering, lauds the pair for “keeping the forward-looking project going, even in the face of the extreme circumstances of the global pandemic.”
For her part, CABE’s Dean Barbara Klinkhammer notes that the effort “will be repeating in the coming years” to help guide the process for the City of Health’s development.
Schneider says that the graduate industrial design students, led by himself and program director Tod Corlett, focused on aging-in-place issues amid “a long list of possible projects” that Jefferson received from Sheba officials.
Those efforts focused on outdoor spaces that encourage aging patients to exercise safely and being outside, creating garden therapy spaces inside buildings, discouraging the use of private cars on campus, and wayfinding.
“Is there a device that can give aging patients a way to navigate around campus which works in concert with interactive signage systems?” he says of one focus of the wayfinding arm. “We also worked on public seating that helps older patients sit down and then be able to stand up. Obviously, that has relevance beyond Sheba.”
While there’s no timeline established for next steps, Schneider hopes that they’ll revisit it soon.
“This is the first step in forging a long relationship,” he shares.
Stach agrees with that last sentiment, seeing the spring effort as an important marker and a “really big milestone for the Jefferson Israel Center.”
From an architectural standpoint, the guidepost was helping Sheba identify new ways to structure its campus from a long-term perspective, as it transforms over the next 15 years, when many new buildings will be built there. In essence, the Jefferson input helped focus the effort moving forward.
We hope that our design proposals will inform Sheba’s future campus planning and the design of new buildings. –Edgar Stach
Stach and his students worked on a three-phase master plan involving construction and proposing the bolstering of pedestrian-friendly environments, bike paths and greener living, and linking the campus to the community, public transportation hubs, light rail stops and welcome centers.
“The feedback we received afterward was enthusiastic. They were overwhelmingly happy with our findings,” Stach says. “The Jefferson team provided Sheba with design concepts spanning from the urban scale to the building scale. We hope that our design proposals will inform Sheba’s future campus planning and the design of new buildings.”
In addition to helping forge a future relationship—which will soon include Zoom meetings and competitions—he suggests the Sheba effort could offer a roadmap toward bringing Jefferson’s East Falls and Center City campuses together, informed by similar principles and functionalities.
“My wish is that our University sees us in the same way, constantly planning ahead together, the same way that Sheba sees us,” Stach says. “We can visualize our potential to grow over the next 25 years, which is a really beneficial thing for institutions to do. Through student and faculty collaboration, I would like to bring the same services to our University.”