Currently Reading

Can a kids’ healthcare space teach, entertain, and heal?

Healthcare Facilities

Can a kids’ healthcare space teach, entertain, and heal?

By Iva Radikova and Olivera Sipka, Stantec | Stantec | July 15, 2019
ErinoakKids treatment center, Erin Sauga, courtesy Stantec

For our design for an ErinoakKids treatment center, we needed to include a staircase that incorporated a large landing, since kids with mobility issues require a space to rest. So, we came up with a treehouse concept, which can be seen at the top left of this image. Photo courtesy Stantec

Sometimes a building isn’t just a building. Occasionally, a building invites you to interact with it, injecting a moment of levity in your visit to a museum, gym, school, office, or hospital. And who appreciates those whimsical touches the most? Children. We brought this idea to our work on three new treatment centers for ErinoakKids, an organization that provides treatment, rehabilitation, and support services to children with a wide range of physical and developmental disabilities, communication disorders, and autism.

Our design at ErinoakKids focused on three pillars: play, achievement, and memory. We strove to infuse the buildings with elements of these pillars to engage ErinoakKids’ young clients.

Each of ErinoakKids’ three treatment centers—located in Mississauga, Brampton, and Oakville—gave us chances to think differently about standard building requirements and turn them into fun and engaging elements. If you’re looking at creating a dynamic healthcare space for children, here are six ways to inject creative touches into everyday design features:

1. Create playful seating: A sense of play seeps into each entrance space with fun, wavy benches. Kids might feel nervous walking into a treatment center, so we wanted to provide a playful and exciting space. We took a requirement—seating in an entrance area—and gave it a child-friendly twist.

2. Turn a staircase into a focal point: We needed to include a staircase that incorporated a large landing, since kids with mobility issues require a space to rest. Instead of developing a standard seating area on the landing, we designed a treehouse that engages both the interior spaces and the playground in the courtyard. The treehouse has become a focal point of the building. We also numbered the steps leading up to the treehouse, so children can gauge their progress while climbing the stairs. We turned a requirement for a landing into a central feature for the building, infusing play and achievement into a lively spot that stimulates a child’s imagination.

3. Inject artistic flair into your wayfinding: We approached wayfinding and art with play, achievement, and memory in mind. Each corridor at ErinoakKids features an accent color to help orient patients and staff. We decided to leave one wall white in every corridor, to create a blank canvas for artwork by patients in the form of hand-painted tiles. These "memory tiles" let kids leave their unique mark on the building—something especially meaningful for patients that have been coming to ErinoakKids for years.


"Memory tiles," seen at the right side of the photo, let kids leave a piece of themselves on the building–something especially meaningful for clients that have been coming to ErinoakKids for years. Photo courtesy Stantec 


4. See possible disruptions as play opportunities: The Mississauga location presented us with a unique opportunity—how would we deal with the train tracks nearby? Are the trains an irritating disruption, or a form of entertainment? We took the second perspective. Instead of blocking the view of passing trains, we decided to embrace our inner sense of play by designing a trainspotting nook. It’s become a memorable feature of the play area. Kids might feel nervous walking into a treatment center, so we wanted to provide a playful and exciting space.

5. Give kids an inside look: What do the inner workings of an elevator look like? At ErinoakKids, patients can get a glimpse at building machines that are usually unseen. We designed "truth windows" throughout the treatment centers—in mechanical rooms, ceilings, and elevators—to teach kids about the building systems inside. Sections of the buildings contain see-through plexiglass surfaces so kids can learn about building systems inside. We designed brightly colored pipes and added timed lights to illuminate the mechanics and give kids a peek into the inner workings of the building.

6. Turn noise reduction features into fun elements: The pool at the Brampton location required us to design sound baffling to reduce the level of noise coming from the pool area. We took that requirement and gave it a playful twist by selecting colorful acoustic panels and creating a three-dimensional sculpture that resembles flying kites. The kites also serve a secondary purpose, as they can distract kids who need to spend most of their time in the pool on their backs for treatment.


This image shows the colorful kites that function as sound baffling for the pool area at ErinoakKids’ Brampton location. Photo courtesy Stantec 


If you’re tasked with working on a similar healthcare space, we hope you’re able to turn project requirements into occasions for joy and curiosity. Many people think of a building as a static structure, but a building can teach, entertain, and heal. It can invite you to behave in a different way.

Infuse your project with meaningful pillars—like play, memory, and achievement—and you’ll be rewarded with a satisfied client and happy users. Now, make that building come alive.

ErinoakKids was delivered via public private partnership (P3) procurement. Stantec served as the Proponent’s Designer and Architect of Record. Parkin Architects served as the Planning & Design Compliance (PDC) Architect.


Numbered steps help children gauge their progress while climbing the stairs. Photo courtesy Stantec 


About the Authors
Iva Radikova is a strong conceptual thinker with an extensive background in healthcare, education, mixed-use and corporate workplace. She’s an interior design lead in our Toronto office, and much of her work is focused on large, multi-layered architecture and interiors projects.

Olivera Sipka is a senior architect focused on healthcare design and has a special interest in developing the design of pediatric facilities as well as designing for behavioral health and senior care. Making sure that her designs always have a positive impact is Olivera’s goal.

More from Author

Stantec | Sep 3, 2021

Passports to a net-zero carbon future

How materials passports can help designers achieve social value and net-zero carbon.

Stantec | Aug 25, 2021

The mall of the future: Less retail, more content

For the mall to survive, it will need to embrace nontraditional uses and “messy vitality.” Here’s how to do it.

Stantec | May 21, 2021

Kick-starting the rebirth of North America’s malls

Our outdated malls can be remade for a renaissance. Here’s how to get started.

Stantec | Apr 23, 2021

How do we design a car-lite future for our cities?

The pandemic has taught us a lot about city streets, vehicle emissions, and public space. With fewer vehicles, streets are nice.

Stantec | Mar 26, 2021

Finding success for downtown office space after COVID-19

Using the right planning tools can spur new uses for Class B and C commercial real estate.

Stantec | Jan 20, 2021

Developing a new open space in your downtown community? Here are 5 key ideas to consider

The best landscape architecture solves the problems most important to its community with robust engagement and uniquely elegant solutions.

Stantec | Aug 19, 2020

How has shopping changed over the past 100 years? A look at the evolution of retail

From malls and big-box stores to online delivery and mall redevelopment: Here’s how the retail landscape has evolved—and where it’s likely headed.

Stantec | Aug 14, 2020

5 strategies for creating safer, healthier hotel experiences

As hotels begin to reopen, the focus on health and safety takes priority while working to preserve the guest experience.

Stantec | Aug 3, 2020

Exploring the airborne transmission of the coronavirus and strategies for mitigating risk

Health authorities say it’s important to understand the dangers of microdroplets. How might indoor ventilation need to change?

Stantec | Jul 13, 2020

4 technologies for improving building sanitization in a post-pandemic society

Changes in building design and operations can drastically improve public health and safety.

More In Category

Magazine Subscription

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.


Follow BD+C: