Since 1994, the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center (VSEC) has been treating dogs, cats, and other furry and feathered friends in Bucks County, Pa. The hospital offers around-the-clock, top-of-the-line medical care with many specialists and disciplines all under one roof.
In order to continue VSEC’s mission, founder Dr. Robert Orsher and his three partners decided to build a brand-new, state-of-the-art veterinary hospital in Levittown, Pa. Like the original VSEC, this would be no ordinary animal hospital, but a high-tech medical facility offering an array of treatment and specialties, including oncology, cardiology, internal medicine, dermatology, neurology and neurosurgery, surgery, and even acupuncture and holistic medicine. The new hospital would also house advanced treatment technologies, including a linear accelerator that provides radiation therapy for dogs and cats with cancer and a room to administer radioactive iodine for treatment of cats with hyperthyroid conditions. Other features included a CT scanner, a MRI scanner, a dedicated ICU, and segregated canine and feline wards.
Because the facility would be at the forefront of animal treatment, Orsher wanted the building exterior to reflect its interior activities. He hired Philadelphia-based PZS Architects to take on the project, which was led by principal-in-charge David Polatnick, AIA. PZS project architect Matt Beuke says that Orsher wanted to be involved throughout the design process. “The clients were closely involved in all aspects of the design process. Dr. Orsher wanted to understand and participate in the decision-making for all aspects of the building, from the floor plan layout to materials selection, to the MEP systems.”
Throughout the facility’s planning and design, form certainly followed function. “The overall concept of the design was to create a place for veterinarians to coincide with the technology that they work with,” Beuke says. “It is a hospital for animals so we had to pay close attention to cleanliness and the functionality of space in order to achieve VSEC’s goals of excellence and service to the best of their capabilities.” To create an environment conducive to teamwork, which is one of VSEC’s core values, the design team created an inviting and functional interior setting with an open and accessible floor plan. A series of open programmatic spaces connect via wide corridors.
The exterior of the building was driven by site constraints that presented challenges throughout the design process. “We were working with a rectangular floor plan and restrictive site, which limited us on achieving different depths,” Beuke says. “We started to apply different materials—modern materials, such as corrugated metal and stainless steel—to help us provide relief to a somewhat flat building.”
The location of the new building is in the center of a conglomeration of very different building types and styles. “Most animal hospitals have a more residential feel to them,” Beuke says. “Our building happens to be tucked in next to a former warehouse, now home to a University of Phoenix. On the opposite side of the road, there are residential homes. We wanted to blend the two together and mix in technology with a modern look.”
Ground face block makes up the base of the building. Metal panels from the original facility were used alongside green, corrugated zinc metal panels that wrap the building. A stainless steel canopy over the main entrance wraps the adjacent building corner. A recessed square of green corrugated zinc frames the large stainless steel VSEC sign on the hospital’s façade. At night, halo backlights illuminate the sign’s lettering while overhead LED tube lighting washes the recessed zinc square.
Aesthetics and Performance
At the corner of the building opposite to the hospital’s entrance sits VSEC’s most high-tech piece of equipment—a linear accelerator used for oncology treatment of felines and canines. The accelerator room is enclosed in 3- to 5-foot-thick concrete. “Essentially, it’s a concrete bunker,” Beuke says. “We wanted to translate that energy of the technology and high-tech treatment that takes place inside and express that on the outside.”
As a result, designers specified a metal panel system on the room’s exterior. The panels are arranged in a pattern in which projecting panels of varying depths all juxtapose each other. “Depending on which way you stand and look at it, the panels undulate in a waving pattern,” Beuke says. “It can look like they’re going up, down, or sideways. It has a very different look to what’s happening at the front entrance.”
The choice of metal panels was driven by aesthetics but ultimately high performance was needed as well, Beuke says. “One thing these panels allowed us to do was eliminate caulk joints, which require future maintenance. These panels have dry joints that interlock and prevent water penetration. This system created the crisp, clean look that we desired and, at the same time, eliminated future maintenance. The owners aren’t going to have to pay someone to come in and replace caulk joints.”
The variety of panels offered by the manufacturer was critical to creating the exterior look of the VSEC building. “We wanted to highlight the different functions at each building corner through a slight variation of the metal panels,” Beuke says. At the main entrance, the panels are flush, creating smooth crisp lines, while on the linear accelerator corner, the panels vary in depth, creating shadow lines that change direction throughout the day. The building as a whole is then tied together with green corrugated zinc panels.”
General contractor C. Raymond Davis & Sons, based in Philadelphia, installed the panels in about one week. “Once the panels arrived on site, the installation process is very repetitive and the panels are easy to use,” Beuke says. “From the outside, it may look complicated to install with all of those different depths, but all of the attachments occurred at the same location, regardless of depth. It was very straightforward.”
After approximately two years of construction and just less than $5 million, the 21,000-square-foot VSEC opened on Jun. 1, 2011. The project also received a Merit Construction Award of Excellence from the eastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors.
Adam Miller writes about metal and architecture from Chicago.