The Virginia Eye Institute, designed by 3north principal Sanford Bond, FAIA, has been selected to receive AIA Virginia’s Test of Time award. The award recognizes a structure not less than 25 years nor more than 50 years from the date of initial construction; in addition, the project should still carry out the original program in a substantial manner and must be standing as originally designed in appearance and in good condition. The award will be presented at the Visions for Architecture gala on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at the Hotel John Marshall.
Located along the Kanawha Canal at the end of Richmond’s Huguenot Bridge, the Virginia Eye Institute is situated to take advantage of the unique site’s natural beauty and provide an environment that encourages patient comfort and healing. Completed in 1987, the building’s strong lines, light industrial aesthetic, and generous use of concrete and steel excited some controversy. Today, however, the Virginia Eye Institute has become a well-loved local landmark that still functions as originally designed.
When developing the design, the architect sought to create a place that fit seamlessly into its context and surrounding landscape while creating a facility that was conducive to both employee efficiency and patient experience. Successful elements include the waiting room with a large glass wall that overlooks the canal, providing patients with increased connectivity to the surrounding landscape and ample natural light. Three pods, each consisting of six examination rooms situated around a central nurses’ station, were designed to streamline operations for doctors and nurses. This layout is still in use today.
The site’s challenges also influenced the design aesthetic. Situated below the flood plain and filled with unstable soil, the site demanded a deep pile-driven foundation that led to a building supported by piers rather than a continuous footing. Raising the structure thus enabled the architect to pursue an industrial wharf aesthetic, taking advantage of natural light and choosing evocative materials and textures such as concrete, corrugated steel and exposed wood frame construction on the interior. A decorative strip of blue tile marks a “waterline” on a glazed concrete block wall that leads up to the patient drop-off and front door.
AIA Virginia recognizes the Virginia Eye Institute with the Test of Time Award as it remains a place for patients to receive care in a beautiful setting that provides connectivity with the surrounding landscape from within an ultramodern medical facility.