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7 design elements for creating timeless pediatric health environments

A recently published report by Shepley Bulfinch presents pediatric healthcare environments as “incubators for hospital design innovation.”

August 24, 2017 |
The new East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville.

The new East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville. A glass-enclosed “light court” with steel replicas of fauna and butterflies provides a colorful distraction for patients and families visiting the hospital. Photo: Denise Retallack


It is vital for healthcare architects to design for flexibility in ways that are cost effective over the life of the building, and to redefine the imagery of pediatric hospitals in ways that are both timeless and ageless, state the authors of a new report by Shepley Bulfinch. 

In Designing for Children, Shepley Bulfinch pediatric design experts single out design elements that help hospitals achieve those goals. Their advice:  

1. Hospitals need to welcome children and their families with imagery, recognizable elements, and nonthreatening spaces that reduce anxieties. The imagery should appeal to children of all age groups, including teenagers.

2. Detailing of casework, floor patterns, colors, and the integration of art determine the character of the hospital. These should work together to capture the imaginations of younger and adolescent patients.

3. The design of human- and child-scaled environments creates a sense of comfort and security, and supports treatment and healing.

4. Design and functionality should be age-adaptive. For example, adolescent patients have a greater need for privacy, especially during illnesses.

5. Designs should allow patients to create personal spaces, explore, and play. This can include letting the patient control the room’s lighting, sound, and privacy, as well as allowing for self-care like access to bathrooms, water, and snacks.

6. Hospitals encourage family involvement when they provide places where visiting family members can sleep, eat, work, participate in care giving, and occasionally escape.

7. Sick kids need escape, too, from the intensity of their illnesses or treatments. Activity spaces, cafés, and gardens are among the places that afford necessary distractions for patients, family, and visitors.

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