Q&A: How to make hospitals feel ‘uplifting’

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James Mladucky, Indiana University Health vice president of design and construction (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

James Mladucky oversees some of the biggest building projects in Indiana. As vice president of design and construction at Indiana University Health, he is supervising the building of replacement hospitals in Bloomington and Frankfort, a hospital expansion in Avon and the recent construction of a cancer center in Carmel.

Earlier this month, IU Health announced the much-anticipated expansion of the Methodist Hospital campus downtown.

Mladucky, 61, a professional architect, lives in Cottage Home, a historic neighborhood on downtown’s east side.

What makes a good design work?

A lot of people think that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It isn’t. It truly is something that is pervasive through all good design work. It is when you walk into a place, and you know it feels right. That’s what the essence of good design is, creating an experience that’s lasting, that’s positive, that’s uplifting.

What are your favorite buildings in Indianapolis that are not associated with IU Health?

The Indianapolis Athletic Club, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Indianapolis Public Library, the Indiana Repertory Theatre and the Phoenix Theatre.

How did you decide you wanted to be an architect?

I have always wanted to be an architect, pretty much since second grade. I played with Lego building blocks. I always enjoyed sketching and so I was attracted to the art side. But I also was actually good at math and science. And so the combination of that really fits an architect well.

Talk about the design of the new downtown hospital on the expanded Methodist Hospital campus, with three glass towers.

Patient rooms are required by code to have natural light. So you have to have windows and they have to have views. So you put patient rooms around the outside and then support space on the inside. That’s how the width of those towers are set, to maximize the amount of window area so you can get daylight into those patient rooms.

The other piece of health care architecture has to do with surgical areas, medical imaging and other procedural areas, which tend to need more space, and not nearly as many windows. In fact, sometimes you don’t want windows into those areas for a variety of reasons.

The downtown campus was announced five years ago but wasn’t unveiled until this month. Why did it take so long to finalize the project?

As you know, health care is changing and evolving. I think we were very thoughtful and deliberate about what we expect this project to do, and how we expect it to respond to the needs of the community. We’re working hard to understand where health care is headed, and how to be relevant over the next 50 years. This is the single biggest investment that IU Health has made in a facility. So, to get it right, we took the time that we thought necessary.

You worked previously for Northwestern Memorial Healthcare in Chicago before coming to IU Health in 2016. How did you end up in Indianapolis?

I had known Dennis Murphy [CEO of IU Health] for many years. He and I worked at Northwestern together. IU Health held a national search to find someone who could come in and help lead this project and so I responded to the national search.

This is really a project that can put a capstone on my career. When I came here, I was in design and construction for 30 years and have another 10 years or so left in me. This will cap that.•

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