February 1, 2009
Thank You, Come Again
At a new men’s health clinic in San Francisco, the DWR catalog is just as titillating as Playboy.
It’s hard for men to feel manly in a traditional reproductive-health clinic. Between the pastel paint and the treacly baby brochures, your average fertility center has about as much testosterone as a Vincente Minnelli film. “I lived in the midst of pink,” Paul Turek, a men’s health doctor, says of the hospital where he used to work. “Men would come in for vasectomies and say, ‘Am I in the right place? Are they going to do the right thing here?’” So for his first private practice, the 48-year-old physician hired Cass Calder Smith of CCS Architecture, to invoke something decidedly more masculine: midcentury Modernism.
The Turek Clinic, which opened in San Francisco last spring, has the antiseptic swagger of a Design Within Reach showroom. Eames Aluminum Group lounge chairs surround a glass Noguchi coffee table in the waiting area, where floor-to-ceiling windows peer out over Hornblower yachts clipping along in the bay. The clinical areas, painted stark white, hark back to an era when doctors took their time treating patients—nothing like the snip-and-run model of today. Paired with some lad-mag chic—big-screen TVs, rich-brown rugs, a balsa long board, and an image of Turek’s 1969 Maserati framed on the walls—the office is entirely the doctor’s own. “It’s not romanticized,” Smith says. “It’s kind of just what he likes and trusting that other guys are going to like the same thing.”
There’s a therapeutic logic at play. According to a 2007 Harris Interactive study, 36 percent of men admit to seeing a physician only when gravely ill. “Men are told to work hard in our culture—don’t complain, and get the job done,” Turek says. “Here they can relax. That’s the philosophy: make it conducive to nonmedical comfort so that men will open up.”
Consider the masturbatorium (Turek’s affectionate term for the semen-sample room). In a typical clinic, men are shuttled into a nondescript exam room or, in extreme cases, a public restroom. At Turek’s office, patients enter a dimly lit suite that looks like a leftover set from 2001. Playboy covers line the walls, and a plasma screen faces a sleek ball chair (the Ikea knockoff is plastic for quick cleaning). Outside, a white-noise generator ensures private viewing. “The goal of the masturbatorium is to get them in and out quickly,” says Ashley Stiles Turek, the clinic’s business manager and Turek’s wife, adding with a laugh, “It’s been a highly successful room.”
But whether design can settle shaky nerves remains to be seen. Bob Johnson, an entrepreneur from Tracy, California, visited the clinic for a reverse vasectomy last July, part of a procedure he described, probably for the first time in history, as “an A+ experience.” As for the modern decor, Johnson said, “I don’t know if it put me at ease, but it certainly looked cool.” A vasectomy, after all, is a painful procedure no matter how you cut it.