October 12, 2016

Kaiser’s geodesic dome clinic

Plans for "Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome."

While researching an earlier article on the Kaiser Permanente hospital designs created by founding physician Sidney Garfield and the architect Clarence Mayhew, I was looking through folders of drawings for the amazing 1962 Panorama City hospital.

Panorama City featured seven double circular floors, the best example of Dr. Garfield’s “circles of service” concept. But one set of plans didn’t quite look right.

Fourth floor plan of tower, Kaiser Foundation Hospital at Panorama City, circa 1961.

We know that Henry J. Kaiser was a geodesic dome pioneer. Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation built two of the first civilian domes in 1957, one in Virginia and one in Hawaii. Geodesic domes are self-supported spherical structures composed of rigid triangles, which became very popular during the 1960s and 1970s as modernists and the counterculture embraced their (literally) “out of the box” features of openness and strength.

But this 1957 plan, by Mayhew (with Dr. Garfield as “medical consultant”) clearly says “Medical office building for the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome.” It was to be 18,500 square feet, with 20 physicians on two floors.

As a round design, it had been misfiled with Panorama City. We don’t know why it was never built, but at least we now know that in the infancy of geodesic dome innovation Henry J. Kaiser and Dr. Sidney Garfield were creatively thinking outside the box.

Plan credits, "Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome," by Clarence Mayhew, with Dr. Sidney Garfield as consultant. 12/18/1957.