A Spoonful Of Sugar
Mick Jordan -- Interior Design, 2/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
When it comes to London hospitals, the word sterile once described far more than the hygiene. Over the past five years, however, the National Health Service has made some remarkable steps forward. A great example is Evelina Children's Hospital, the result of a Royal Institute of British Architects competition. The city's first new pediatric medical center in more than 100 years, it was designed by Hopkins Architects—with a little help from the children themselves.
"We consulted them about the graphics, the colors, and the artwork," says Hopkins director Pam Bate. Then she proposed something radical: a healthy, healing, and inspirational environment that responded to young patients' wish lists.
Color makes its first statement as patients approach the hospital. To show that it has a heart—that children are getting better there—Bate used bright red paint for the pair of six-story elevator shafts revealed behind the curved glass enclosure that stretches the entire 110-yard length of the building's south side.
The enormous light-filled volume inside this conservatory, as it's called by the Hopkins team, represents a response to potential claustrophobia in a building that completely takes up its tight urban site. "It feels like you're outdoors," Bate explains. Particularly as the conservatory faces the lush parkland at neighboring Lambeth Palace.
Aside from circulation functions, the conservatory is home to a cafeteria for families and four classrooms for patients. The monumental red elevator shafts connect these facilities to the ground level, where children play on a red-and-blue conical slide in the outpatient waiting room, and the upper levels, where most of the medical work takes place.
Seriously ill children from all over the southeast of England are referred to this $100 million hospital—particularly those with heart and kidney problems, neurological disorders, and cleft lips and palates. There are 140 beds, including 20 for intensive care, as well as three state-of-the-art operating theaters, a dialysis unit, and an imaging service equipped for MRIs and ultrasound. The hospital has a day-care department, too.
Still, it was essential that wards and corridors not look scarily clinical. Instead of standard-issue hospital signage, nature-themed graphics set into the rubber floor tell you which level you're on: whales and dolphins in the outpatient area on the ground level, for instance, or leaves outside operating theaters on level three. Leaf, insect, and bird motifs underfoot point the way to nurses' stations. Wards are coded orange, red, or purple.
Why such a huge emphasis on nonverbal way-finding? First, of course, the patients are often very young children. Second, Bate points out, "There are 140 languages spoken in this city."