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Nature heals - Melbourne’s new children’s hospital

Topics: Human Wellbeing | 1 comment

Nature heals – Melbourne’s new children’s hospital

Set in parkland, the new Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) building in Melbourne, Australia aims to be a ‘park in a hospital, and a hospital in a park’. The new $AUD1 billion RCH is being delivered under the state’s Partnerships Victoria framework by the Children’s Health partnership (CHP) consortium. The consortium comprises International Public Partnerships as sponsors, Bovis Lend Lease as contractor, Spotless Group as facilities manager and architects Billard Leece and Bates Smart.

Armed with a broad brief to better incorporate nature into the building, they have come up with a world-first in hospital design that aims to show how healthcare spaces infused with nature can speak to children and aid in the healing process. Lead architect Kristen Whittle spoke with HPHP Central about the design process.

What were the influences underpinning your approach to the design?
From having received a particularly inspired brief we set out and looked at a divergent range of information. Of particular interest to us was the work of Scandinavian artist Olafur Eliasson. His work discusses the impact of the environment on human beings and our perception, and elaborates on our sociological needs, our deeply rooted human needs, and looks at what objects and the environment interrelate.

As a sort of ethical centre to our work, the Reggio Emilia education philosophy in Italy was a good place to start. Reggio Emilia looks at the role of architecture and the environment on kids – they talk about the role of wayfinding and a sense of place like the concept of the village as being very important for children, and about stimulating children’s minds by using light and materials to evoke a sense of interest without dominating the kids’ environment.

And then on top of that we also looked at the work of US Professor Roger Ulrich, who has spoken widely over the impact of architecture on human emotion, especialy in hospital buildings. He invented the term ‘evidence based design’ which promotes the role of views into nature as being important prerequisites for hospital buildings. We also looked at the work of psychologists Kaplan and Kaplan – they talk about the restorative potential of natural light and the role of the environment and how it impacts on your behaviour.

We combined these references and began coordinating a ‘best fit response’ for new development and focussing on how to best integrate and develop them into the overall concept of the building in the park and the park in the building?

  • Image supplied by Bates Smart Architects
  • Image supplied by Bates Smart Architects
  • Image supplied by Bates Smart Architects
  • Image supplied by Bates Smart Architects
  • Image supplied by Bates Smart Architects

Can you tell us about the features of the new building?
We disaggregated all the pieces of the building and made them into parts, which lowered the scale of the building and made it more child-friendly. Then we put a street in the middle of all these bits and pieces, so there was clear a wayfinding device that would connect all the different bits of the building together, so once you walked in you always have a view outside, you always know what time of day it is and you always have a sense of where you are in the building because you’re always looking out – you don’t get lost.

In terms of the way the sun passes around the building, you have access to natural, direct light constantly, and the sun and the gardens kind of wrap around the entire building. So that was our big move, by creating the street and facing the street north, it unlocked this capacity for the building to intertwine with the park on a much greater level.

For the Inpatient Unit Building, we created a star shape building that connects the rooms to the park. Most of the rooms are single, so most of the kids will have this direct view into the park. The star shape has these wedge-shaped fingers that came out, so the corridor is a much more open space where parents and kids can come out and congregate. At the end of the triangular space there’s a breakout space that’s like a lounge room for familiess, with big open view of the park.

The external façade of the building is designed to reflect colours from the surrounding trees and nature. How did you do this?
We took references of the eucalypts in the park and literally mapped them onto the building. So the outside of the building is like a tree, it’s built like tree bark and is made out of different layers of the grey colours of the trees. We colour matched the photographs of the trees to the colour of the concrete, and we honed and smoothed out some of the concrete to have a smooth bark texture, and sandblasted other bits of concrete to give it a textured, rough finish. For sunshade we used glass to overclad some of the concrete, to bring in colour, to bring in the idea of the green canopy sitting above the tree. And we mapped those green squares onto the building – there’s four different green colours and we created a pattern of dots that drifts and changes across its surface, so that it appears different at different times of the day and at different aspects.

What elements of the interior were designed specifically for kids?
Probably the most profound thing that we’ve done to make it child friendly is introduce some distractions and art into the building. We’ve introduced a 7 metre by 4 metre aquarium; we’ve introduced a three-story feature sculpture that will sit in the middle of the street; we’ve also got a range of child friendly, interactive art installations that are going to be put around the building but mainly in the street.

In terms of the architecture and the interior design, mostly we’ve tried to deinstitutionalise the experience, so instead of having the waiting area look like a waiting area, we’ve tried to engender a sense of fun and a sense of discovery. For example the seats are coloured, shaped and textured in an interesting way, they’re much more of a reference to creatures, to landscapes, to boulders, to gardens, so the seats don’t look like seats.

How will you measure the success of the building?
We have expressed interest in researching patient outcomes within the design group and we would be interested in building up an objective body of evidence and measurements to see if the proposal is achieving positive results once it has opened. The Department of Health, The New Royal Children’s Hospital and CHP will be in place to decide on how this could best be done in the future. There is a real opportunity here to see the viability of this approach to buildings generally.


One comment

  • Nicole Fenton says:

    The New Childrens Hospital looks absoulutely amazing ,the rooms are good and look warm and inviting especially being single rooms means the children will feel more at home and at ease with there stay in hospital .Well done to the people involved in construction and planning of the new hospital and to all the health proffessionals that work there , you make us Australians proud that we have such a good hospital for the generations of infants and children to come.

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