Designing for Total Wellness: Cummins LiveWell Center

Axis Architecture Blog Post

The Cummins LiveWell Center is a 28,000-square-foot wellness center located in downtown Columbus, Ind. It provides services to Cummins employees and their families and houses services that include primary and urgent care, physical medicine, preventive services, and lifestyle coaching. It features courtyards, medical “bullpens” where physicians can converse and collaborate, and interior design by our own Ashley Lee. But in addition to celebrating individuals’ total wellness, the LiveWell Center had to complement the city’s existing architecture.

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For those unfamiliar with Columbus, the town of 45,000 is a mecca for Modernist architecture. In the 1950s, J. Irwin Miller—who was instrumental in the rise of Cummins Inc.—established the Cummins Foundation. The foundation offered to pay the architect fees for public projects, provided the client chose from a pre-approved list of architects. As a result, the city is home to dozens of commissioned designs by Eliel Saarinen, FAIA; and his son, Eero Saarinen, FAIA; as well as Richard Meier, FAIA; I.M. Pei, FAIA; Kevin Roche, FAIA; and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Roche designed the Cummins Corporate Office Building, which opened in 1984 and is located across the street from the LiveWell Center. Because of the buildings’ proximity to each other, and because of Columbus’s architectural legacy, we at Axis knew we had to design a modern structure that created a seamless transition between the two properties.

We had an advantage, though: We had already worked with Cummins. In 2012, we worked on a two-phase project at the COM Building, which included interior design for 100,000 square feet of new space and the renovation of 100,000 square feet of existing office space. We also worked on the Irwin Office Building, a 65,000-square-foot project that united five separate buildings.

After those projects, it was an honor to work with Cummins again. While we have designed several public healthcare projects, the LiveWell Center is our first corporate wellness project. So, for research and inspiration, we traveled to San Francisco, to the headquarters of Apple, Facebook, and Applied Materials. We wanted to understand how healthcare works in a corporate environment.

When we first started having conversations about what the LiveWell Center should and could look like, we threw the idea of a conventional doctor’s office out the window.

“Really, the design came out of the need for a functional medical facility,” said Ashley. “We wanted to design everything from the inside out. Alongside Cummins, we determined what the functions of the space needed to be, and then we designed around that.”

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It was important that the LiveWell Center complement the Cummins Corporate Office Building, so we designed the LiveWell Center to be 24 feet tall—the same height as the Corporate Office Building. Courtyards and landscaping designed by site architect Rundell Ernstberger Associates also play to the indoor/outdoor connections of the Corporate Office Building.

To avoid the sterility of typical doctor’s offices, we made use of curtain walls and natural light, two elements we always include in our healthcare projects. Skylights bring sunlight to the bullpens, which are encompassed by the exam rooms. Each exam room has two doors—one for the patient, and one for the physician.

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The way the doors are positioned allows the patient to have more privacy. When a physician enters an exam room, the door opens toward the patient. This means the patient will see the door opening, but the physician does not immediately see the patient. Furthermore, physician and employee “traffic” is along the south side of the building, where the break room, conference room, and supply rooms are located. Patient circulation, however, is on the north side of the building, so they easily can access the multipurpose room, teaching kitchen, health hub, chiropractic care, and acupuncture rooms.

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As for the exam rooms themselves? They are as simple and as clean as possible, but they feature pops of color and wood walls. The facility also includes care suites, which offer a small consultation area where a patient and a physician can sit down together and look over an X-ray or chart.

“It’s where the doctor and patient can talk to each other, and the patient doesn’t feel as intimidated,” said Geoff DeSmit, the architect for the LiveWell Center.

Geoff, one of Axis’s graduate architects, emphasized the convenience and comfort of the care suites, which have individual bathrooms attached to them. The care suites provide more room for families, and allow a patient to have a one-on-one conversation with his or her physician in a room that is not the exam room.

“It changes the approach of how the patient and the doctors interact,” said Geoff.

Geoff also talked about how the wood walls, soft fabrics, and flooring surfaces provide warmth to the space.

“When someone walks in here, they’re going to think they’re in the wrong place,” he said. “This doesn’t look like a doctor’s office.”

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High ceilings and bright white walls help the LiveWell Center feel airy and inviting. The welcome area and check-in process is modeled after an Apple store. And small pops of color also define the facility’s departments. For example, in the general practice area, the furniture is orange and there are orange stripes on the doors. Ashley also took inspiration from Alexander Girard, whose interior designs appear throughout Columbus. Bright, vibrant colors—whether they appear in furniture or accent carpeting—help patients feel energized and inspired. Art consultant Mindy Taylor Ross also curated the artwork for the LiveWell facility, which includes pieces by local and Indiana artists, as well as some national and international pieces.

“[Mindy] brought in artwork that has a lot of movement,” said Ashley. “Subliminally, it has a feeling of well-being. [It] … provides an emotional connection.”

In addition to the artwork, the LiveWell Center’s curtain walls, high ceilings, and use of natural light create a comfortable, inviting place that mimics Columbus’s iconic buildings.

“The Center’s soothing colors, vivid artwork, and bright, open spaces provide a comfortable setting for our patients to learn more about lifestyle choices and how they can prevent and even reverse disease,” said Dr. Dexter Shurney, chief medical director and executive director of global health and wellness for Cummins. “Our investment in the LiveWell Center is an effort to improve health outcomes by addressing the root cause of illness.”

In other words, the LiveWell Center is a place where people can go to talk about their successes in personal health, and find solutions to their problems. It’s a space designed to provide patient-centered, preventative care.

The LiveWell Center is not a doctor’s office—it is a modern structure that promotes total health.

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