A Conversation with Franco Brown, AIA, DBIA, LEED AP BD+C, Lead Architectural Designer of Hoag’s New Sun Family Campus
Health care is changing, and patients throughout Southern California are looking to Hoag for a robust range of world-class services that are both specialized and comprehensive. To meet the diverse needs of Orange County’s growing communities, Hoag is considering every aspect of the patient experience, from personalized care to the way spaces look and how they make people feel. This is the philosophy guiding the expansion of Hoag’s Sun Family Campus in Irvine and one that is helping Hoag shape the future of patient-centered health care locally and nationally. Supported by Boldly Hoag, a $300 million capital campaign, Hoag’s plans for expansion and commitment to being a leader in the field are becoming a reality thanks in large part to Hoag’s generous donors.
Architect Franco Brown, design director and principal at LPA Design Studios, the firm Hoag contracted after a competitive design process in 2019, shared insight into how Hoag’s focus on expert, compassionate care is guiding the design of new buildings.
“A big differentiator for us is the idea of high tech and high touch. At most hospitals, the patient experience depends, in large part, on how sick you are. People who are compromised get exposed to a host of new and intimidating sensations throughout their diagnosis and treatment; they may find themselves inside state-of-the-art machines like MRI or CT scanners. All this activity is foreign to the human body. There’s a lot of anxiety that goes into the patient’s mind. These are high-tech moments. Our idea is to balance high-tech moments with high-touch moments,” said Franco.
This balance, according to Franco, requires going back to basics—a nurse holding a patient’s hand, for example, or areas of respite. On Hoag’s reimagined Irvine campus, patients will have the opportunity to counter high-tech experiences with those that bring them comfort and connect them to nature. Outdoor decks and gardens where patients can enjoy the sunlight, fresh air, and plant life provide such opportunities. Franco explains, “Every building, every floor offers patients soothing high-touch moments that bring them back to the familiar.”
For Franco’s team, it’s not only about creating these moments for patients but also caregivers who work long hours and are often under immense stress. Extensive planning has gone into providing these physicians, nurses, and support staff with the same opportunities to decompress and recharge for the benefit of their patients. Access to nature and nonmedical spaces, like dedicated staff lounges and dining areas, also go a long way in recruiting and retaining the brightest talent in medicine, an ongoing priority for Hoag.
The idea goes further still—it also applies to the campus’ master plan and the way buildings look. What set LPA apart from the beginning was their innovative campus approach, more closely resembling a university or village dedicated to wellness, where a group of small, specialized buildings are connected to nature.
Speaking about the concept, Franco said, “As humans, we relate better to three-story buildings than 20-story buildings. It’s a much more humane scale.” His vision runs contrary to traditional hospital models, but unlike the colder climates of Chicago or New York, which prioritize large hospital towers, Orange County’s rolling coastal landscape and warmer temperatures afford a campus that celebrates the lifestyle of Southern California residents.
The buildings themselves will boast advanced materials like high-performance glass and metal panels—everything you would expect from a state-of-the-art facility—in addition to wood, natural stone, and more. In this way, even the expression of the buildings balance technology with compassionate care.
Franco emphasizes, “These two ideas are not mutually exclusive, and they’re central to Hoag’s health care delivery. The idea of boldness and the best in clinicians, technology, diagnostics, and treatment—all that coupled with a humane approach expressed from the architecture and the materials you touch and see, all the way to the protocols and the spaces that are offered to patients.”
What’s important to both Hoag and to LPA is that patients are confident that Hoag is taking care of their physical needs as much as their mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. “When you combine all these elements, the outcome or experience for patients will be very different,” said Franco.
With the first phase of construction well underway—and scheduled to be complete in 2026—evidence of the healing power of nature in the Hoag experience is already beginning to sprout on the grounds of the Sun Family Campus.
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