Gensler is a San Francisco-based architecture firm. The first truly global design firm, widely admired for its acumen, collaborative spirit, and relentless focus on delivering innovative design solutions for clients. The firm’s analysis powerfully works on human relationships with its built environment. Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, situated in Chicago, Illinois, is one such project of the firm that reflects the interdependence of humans and their response to built environments.

Shirley Ryan Ability Lab by Gensler - Sheet1
Shirley Ryan Ability Lab_©Gensler

The ability lab designed by Gensler challenges conventional medical procedures and builds a new link between physically and mentally challenged patients and their surroundings through their design interventions. The design structure reconsiders interior, functionality, and scientific interventions in designing Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. 

Shirley Ryan Ability Lab by Gensler - Sheet2
Entrance ceiling mural-Shirley Ryan Ability Lab_©2020. Innovation Glass LLC

Organizational Concepts | Shirley Ryan Ability Lab

Hope and optimism are the major components required in healing. The design is well established on these principles. The responsiveness of this building plays a major role in defining its feasibility. The user interface is forced on frictionless design to avoid confusion and chaos. The long colourful curvy terrazzo bands running on the floor act as direction guides to the patients, and the uniqueness of the building is its ability to interact with its user. The designers kept in mind the requirements of the users, as most of them are physically challenged.

The labs are well divided into various levels and small pods that are beneficial for the interaction between patients and doctors. The conventional medical buildings are space specific, whereas, in Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, the outstanding factor is its patient-specific approach to design. All the necessary services are patient-oriented, and the patient is the focus and lies within the centre of the loop. Each floor has a different department and interior according to the specific requirements.

Interactive Ceilings

Shirley Ryan Ability Lab by Gensler - Sheet3
Staircase glass mural_©Shirley Ryan Ability Lab

The Shirley Ryan Ability Lab design stands out for its ability to relate to its users, and adding one such factor is its ceiling. The back entrance (the most used entrance) has a very specific concept attached to its ceiling. The fusion of colours and symbols makes one understand the very purpose of the building. The facilities are put up in symbolized form with hues of shades to reflect the purpose and moto of healing. Abilities like thinking and speaking, arms and hands, legs and walking, and knowledge and compassion are used to make a conceptual art that speaks for the building. As you move into the building, It starts to feel as if the building is narrating its narrative through the walls, stairs, and even the ceiling.

The building rules out the conventional setup and focuses on interacting with patients. The physically challenged people who come with years of ailment relate to the space at different levels, and the murals promote them. It creates an encouraging environment instilling hope and optimism in them.

Fusion Of Science And Art

The most challenging part of shaping the interior is the furniture. The designers couldn’t find specific furniture for the patients, as their ailments are far more complicated. They wanted to solve it through their design. So the team worked with the various scientists of different departments, such as the paediatrician department, arm, and hand department, knowledge department, legs, and walking department, etc., to design specific furniture.

Shirley Ryan Ability Lab by Gensler - Sheet4
pediatric department beds_©Shirley Ryan Ability Lab

One such example is the tables of the pediatric department. They were shaped differently from the conventional rectangular tables keeping in mind the ergonomics and ease of use for various doctors.

Colour Theory | Shirley Ryan Ability Lab

Hand and arm department mural_©1990 – 2022 The Chicago Athenaeum and Metropolitan Arts Press, Ltd

The colour theory of building was an experience in itself, The building had a language that spoke to the users on a paced scale. Once you reach the dedicated space, The intent of the space is well specified through its murals and placement. The above picture is an example of murals and their relation to the patient. In the hands and arm department, the abstract art of hand movements is created to motivate the patient to heal d imitate the surroundings.

The Shirley Ryan Ability Lab indeed is the best in architecture and science. The unorthodox thought process of Gensler made it happen. It’s a space where physically challenged people set themselves free and create their own space of development. The deigning by Gensler makes one reconsider the functioning of health care services. They are more than mere spaces of physical development,

The building can be called, in a true sense, a place to reflect and relax. It’s a space that caters to all the activities required for the holistic development of the patient. The building not only caters to the physical factors but also holds high the emotional and mental development of the patient. From entering the building to climbing the staircase, every activity in the vicinity has a meaning deeper instilled in it, focusing on optimism and hope. The fusion of art and science for valuing the human factor is what architecture has always stood up for, and this building is living proof of such theory.


“INSIDE World Festival of Interiors 2018: Health Winner., Accessed 16 July 2022.

Gensler. “Shirley Ryan AbilityLab | Projects.” Gensler

“Shirley Ryan AbilityLab | HDR.”

“Gold Award: Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.” Modern Healthcare, 7 Sept. 2017,

“Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.” Innovation Glass LLC Accessed 16 July 2022.


Jasmeen kaur is best described as an inquisitive individual, who perceives architecture as an amalgamation of tangible and intangible aspects. The architecture, as a whole, is just like a riddle, with its segments lost in the perceptions of the classical and the contemporary era.