Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute

A unique history inspired this game-changing proton therapy center design

In 1861, under the shade of a simple oak tree in Union-held Hampton, Virginia, Mary Peake began teaching newly-freed slaves to read and write. In 1863, locals gathered around the tree to hear President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation read, and thus it became known as “Emancipation Oak.” Peake’s class became the Butler School for Negro Children which laid the foundation for the Hampton Institute, and eventually the historically black university Hampton University. Hampton counts Dr. Booker T. Washington among its alumni and Emancipation Oak still stands on campus.

At Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute (HUPTI), a spectacular glass atrium wall overlooks a young sapling planted from a root stem of Emancipation Oak. HUPTI is a few miles from the university campus, and it extends the university’s history of service to the Tidewater community. Like the oak tree during the Civil War, it serves as a place of sanctuary and healing.

University alumnus and President Dr. William R. Harvey’s desire to serve the region, ease human suffering and his awareness of the high rate of prostate cancer in Tidewater’s largely African-American community brought forth a dream for a university proton therapy center. As a result of Dr. Harvey’s perseverance and bold vision, in 2010 the Hampton Roads area became one of a select few locales to offer this vital mode of cancer treatment. Since then, HUPTI has treated hundreds of patients with prostate, breast, lung, head and neck, brain, pediatric, pancreatic and other cancers, with the precise, non-invasive and largely pain-free proton beam therapy.

Today, VOA is an established global leader in proton therapy center design. That reputation was earned in part from our work on Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute, which was VOA’s first built proton therapy design project. Dr. Harvey’s passion for the project, Hampton University’s unique history and VOA’s desire to innovate and bring a customized design approach in an emerging market sector resulted in a successful and inspiring project, one that set a new standard in the industry.

The design for the 98,000 square foot proton beam therapy facility features a two-story, glass-enclosed atrium, five treatment rooms, a fixed-beam room, and four gantries with a three-story rotating gantry.

VOA’s design broke new ground in proton therapy center design. VOA placed HUPTI’s patient treatment areas at grade level, not in a “bunker” below ground as was usually the case in proton therapy. This decision shaved $3 million off the project cost, kept radiation safe from groundwater exposure and allowed for a soothing, healing environment in treatment areas. Generous daylight and natural views were made available to patients undergoing treatment. They can enter a welcoming non-clinical environment, be greeted and receive treatment all on one level. Importantly, this innovative layout increased patient throughput at the center, thereby increasing the project’s return on investment—a key factor considering the costly nature proton therapy facility construction.

The Institute was designed as a soothing place of healing, where nature is invited in, and views of a forest and lake are abundant. The reserved and calming interior defers attention to the nature surrounding the space. Even the children’s playroom offers a view of the lake. A healing garden outdoors features seating adjacent to the water.

The design for the facility references elements of the historic university itself; its clock tower and brick connects with the landmark architecture of Hampton University’s Memorial Church, which dates from 1886. But its most striking aspect is its transparency. Its public spaces enjoy bountiful daylight through the two-story, glass atrium.

Today, the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute represents a new chapter in the proud history of the city and university with a dedication to alleviating suffering in the community.

For VOA, it represents an ideal expression and integration of both our expertise in innovative proton beam therapy center design and our customized approach to clients which favors a design that speaks to the institution, its culture and specific needs.

Size: 98,000sf
Team members: John Jessen, Richard Brown, Doug Jeong, Christopher Pilla, Michele Vernon, Tony Wong

Photos by Nick Merrick

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