BELLEVUE "NEW BUILDING"

Bellevue "cube" in front of Waterside Plaza's towers. Kips Bay Plaza visible on the bottom-left. (Flickr user Martin Jones)

Bellevue "New Building"
Date: 1974
Architect: Pomerance & Breines in association with Katz,
Waisman, Weber, Strauss, and Joseph Blumenkranz.
Address: FDR Drive, East 27th to East 28th Streets
Use: Hospital

Bellevue in front of Waterside Plaza, circa 1975  (source unknown) 

Bellevue Hospital's "New Building" was the cornerstone of a major development on the east side of Manhattan between Stuyvesant Town and the United Nations in the sixties and seventies, which included New York University Medical Center and the Veterans Administration Hospital. Known as the "New Building"  or unofficially "The Cube," the 250' x 250' behemoth hospital holds 1,500 beds across its 25-story facility. 

Designed by Pomerance & Breines in association with Katz, Waisman, Weber, Strauss, and Joseph Blumenkranz the new hospital was an extension of the hospital originally founded in 1736,  the oldest public hospital in the United States. The new building was located just east of the original facility on 1st Avenue between 27th and 28th, directly next to the FDR Drive. 

Typical floor plan, Bellevue Hospital. Pedro Guedes, The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architecture & Technological Change

The beige-colored, concrete-clad facade does little to disguise the bulkiness of the building, which has little aesthetic qualities was designed purely with function in mind. With one-and-a-half acres of space per floor, the building encompasses more floor space than Bellevue's entire twenty-acre property. The floor-plans follow a circumferential format, where all 2,000 rooms are positioned around the exterior of the building with the twenty elevators and services such as the laboratories, kitchens, and offices confined to the extensive windowless interior. One reason for adopting this method was to streamline traffic patterns of patients and staff vertically. The previous horizontal layout of the hospital's campus had "caused inefficient traffic patterns between departments and buildings, leading to high costs in personnel and facility maintenance. The new cube would decentralize and verticalize the support and distribution systems, ultimately saving money." The building combined fourteen separate buildings into one – offering patients their own diagnostic, administrative, dietary and laboratory services on each floor, allowing them not to leave the floor except for non-routine treatments. The only windows belonged to patient exterior rooms due to the belief that patients needed sunlight and workers would be more efficient with artificial illumination.

 Bellevue Hospital from Waterside Plaza. Flickr user Deborah Robertson

Bellevue Hospital from Waterside Plaza. Flickr user Deborah Robertson

When it opened, the hospital was the largest of its type built in the U.S. The building was criticized by the press, patients, staff and even Bellevue's executive director, who claimed "if the devil himself had been commissioned to build a hospital facility, this is how he would have designed it." According to Stephen Verderber and David J. Fine, authors of Healthcare Architecture in an Era of Radical Transformation, the New Building had an unfortunate lasting impact on hospital architectural design for over a decade. 

"The response was less than enthusiastic. Staff questioned its scale and degree of isolation caused by the design. Architectural critics criticized its "stark concrete cube" exterior. The architects Pomerance & Breines, had made a minimal attempt to address its monolithism through 'the textured rhythm of sill and floor heights.' In other words, these architects had accepted the box as the basic shape on the basis of its universal functionality and therefore they had by default limited their role to that of exterior window-dressers. As the generic block hospital quickly filled to capacity with people, services and high technology, comparatively little thought was given to traditional qualities of buildings–natural daylight, scale, or meaningful connections to the natural environment. This dilemma would force conditions of unprecedented compromise upon the hospital architect for years to come." (Stephen Verderber, David J. Fine, Healthcare Architecture in an Era of Radical Transformation )

 

Sources: 

Pomerance & Breines. Bellevue Hospital : new hospital building and reconstruction and modernization of existing buildings, preliminary drawings. New York : Department of Public Works, Division of Buildings, 1960.

Guedes, Pedro. Encyclopaedia of Architecture and Technological Change. 1979, p, 216.

Fine, David J.; Verderber, Stephen.  Healthcare Architecture in an Era of Radical Transformation. Yale University Press, 2000.