Health + Behavior

Edie & Lew Wasserman Building opens in Stein Plaza at UCLA

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Edie & Lew Wasserman Building
Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

Campus officials dedicated the Edie & Lew Wasserman Building, a new landmark research and patient-care facility at UCLA, at a festive ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 28. Named to honor the late philanthropists Edie and Lew Wasserman, whose generosity made the striking structure possible, the state-of-the-art facility will meet the expanding needs of the Stein Eye Institute and provide space for UCLA’s Department of Neurosurgery and Institute of Urologic Oncology.

“This world-class complex culminates years of planning to ensure the effective use of several exceptionally generous gifts to benefit the public,” Chancellor Gene Block said, noting the facility’s diverse uses for patient care, medical research and physician training across multiple fields. “It is an enduring legacy of Edie and Lew Wasserman, who were among UCLA’s most ardent enthusiasts. They gave selflessly not only to enhance vision care, but also to establish undergraduate student scholarships in the UCLA College and graduate student fellowships in film production, among other gifts.”

Designed by Richard Meier and Partners Architects, the $115.6 million project is a LEED gold-certified "green," six-story building encompassing 100,000 square feet. A stunning example of modern architecture dominated by clean lines, white terracotta and pale oak, the facility features floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the spacious rooms with natural light and reveal dramatic views of campus.

A three-story glass wall surrounds the main lobby, where a sculpture of two oversized pairs of glasses commands the spotlight. Inspired by the Wassermans’ signature eyewear, the spectacles pay homage to the couple’s infinite vision and long-standing commitment to preventing blindness and restoring eyesight.

Casey Wasserman, the grandson of Edie and Lew Wasserman, recalled that he was a UCLA senior when he attended his first architectural meeting about the Wasserman building with his grandfather in 1996. Eighteen years later, he found himself participating in the ceremonial ribbon-cutting with his wife and children at Tuesday’s event.

“The motto of UCLA is ‘Let There Be Light,’” said Wasserman, president and chief executive officer of the Wasserman Foundation. “The first thing that (lead architect) Michael Palladino said to us was, ‘These buildings are so dark, and you’re treating people who have eye challenges.  We need the greatest light in the world and live in the city that provides us with that opportunity.’  There certainly is light here. I'm enormously pleased and proud to see my grandparents’ dream come to fruition in close collaboration with UCLA.”

The initial vision for the institute has its roots in the 1960s, when Hollywood agent and studio chief Lew Wasserman, Music Corporation of America founder Jules Stein and then-UCLA Chancellor Franklin Murphy imagined a trio of facilities dedicated to restoring and preserving eyesight. The first building, the Jules Stein Eye Institute, opened its doors in 1966, and, in 1989, Stein Plaza expanded with the creation of the Doris Stein Eye Research Center, named after Jules Stein’s wife.

“We’re here to celebrate the future,” said Dr. A. Eugene Washington, vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA,  in his remarks at the podium. “The Edie & Lew Wasserman Building is a beautiful symbol of UCLA’s collaborative spirit and our global impact. When you first look at it, what jumps out at you is that it is a de facto work of art.”

The Wasserman building’s three lower floors are dedicated to the Stein Eye Institute. The new center features six lower-level operating rooms, with orbital and ophthalmic plastic surgery on the first floor, and cataract and refractive surgery on the second floor. Each practice area includes procedure space and clinics, enabling physicians to perform patient exams, testing and surgery in the same location.

“The welcome addition of the magnificent Edie & Lew Wasserman Building to Stein Plaza will greatly enhance the Stein Eye Institute’s continued evolution into the leading eye care, vision research and educational center of the 21st century,” said Dr. Bartly J. Mondino, director of the Stein Eye Institute and the Bradley R. Straatsma, MD, Chair in Ophthalmology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “With the opening of the Wasserman building and our recent affiliation with the Doheny Eye Institute, this has truly been a banner year for the Stein Eye Institute.”

By moving its surgical center to the Wasserman building, the Stein Eye Institute will be able to expand the lab space in the Jules Stein Building to accommodate cutting-edge research, like gene and stem cell therapy for treating eye disease, added Mondino.

The UCLA Institute of Urologic Oncology (IUO) on the third floor is led by a multidisciplinary team of scientists and physicians dedicated to expediting the development of new therapies for the treatment of kidney, bladder, testicular and prostate cancers.

Patients benefit from the IUO’s collaborative approach, top diagnostic tools, expertise in robotic surgery and the combined experience of UCLA experts, who often treat the most complicated urologic cancer cases. A board representing all genitourinary specialties meets at the IUO to discuss complicated and challenging tumor cases referred to UCLA.

“This is a new concept; very few centers in the country, if any, are practicing such truly unified medicine,” said Dr. Arie Belldegrun, IUO director. “Patients are able to see and obtain opinions from all experts dealing with their disease in one sitting, rather than scheduling separate appointments with each specialist. It's very convenient and patient-friendly.”

The Wasserman building’s innovative philosophy is also reflected on the top two floors housing the UCLA Global Neurosurgery Center. The new facility unites the entire Department of Neurosurgery faculty, which was previously scattered across eight buildings. The center also features a telemedicine command center that allows surgeons to continuously monitor patients in Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center; UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica; and community hospitals across California.

A new clinic boasts six exam rooms, two consultation suites and spaces for multidisciplinary teams of physicians to collaborate. A teleconferencing suite features a multimedia board room and a 70-seat IMAX-style conference center that will allow experts worldwide to pool their knowledge and accelerate surgical solutions for patients.

A simulation center will enable surgeons and trainees to download images of patients’ brain anatomy to rehearse complex cases before entering the operating room. The virtual-reality environment will allow surgeons to select instruments, choose the best entry points and identify complicating factors in order to reduce medical risks and ensure successful results.

"We're reinventing the future of neurosurgery with this facility,” said Dr. Neil Martin, chair of neurosurgery at UCLA. “This new center provides us with a platform to truly revolutionize how we work together as a team, how we train the neurosurgeons of the future, and how we ensure that our patients have the very best outcomes.”

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