Hillman Cancer Center

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania represents a new way of thinking about medical facilities. A flagship project for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, it’s one of the first buildings to include both cancer treatment and cancer research in the same structure. By using Pittsburgh Corning glass block, the team at IKM Incorporated Architects created a high-end space that sets standards in both privacy and harmony.

The Center comprises a treatment and a research pavilion linked by a long, open atrium. IKM used Vue® pattern block, with Argus® pattern block acting as trim, for each pavilion’s facing wall.

“The vision for the project was one of hope,” says principal architect Roger Hartung. “Patients and researchers see each other come and go.” For patients, this is a reminder that dedicated cancer research is real and ongoing, often with existing patients’ own tissues. While researchers never forget that their work affects real patients, right across the atrium.

“The use of glass block improved the project,” says Hartung. “Not only was it more affordable than other materials, but it gave us the right balance between visual connection and a sense of privacy.”

Glass block, of course, is clear, which provided the visual connection. Yet each block’s four inch thickness and bed joint of mortar created a natural louvering effect. As one looks up from the atrium entrance, this louvering effect provided the necessary privacy.

“I don’t think there is another material that could give us that effect,” says Hartung. “We loved the glass so much we decided to put it all over the atrium.” The atrium now has a natural beauty at night, thanks to light from the labs.

“Glass has a sense of preciousness, although you’d need a heavy hammer and some pretty strong muscles to break a glass block. People respond culturally to glass,” Hartung observes. “It does some wonderful things when you put light through it.”