Steffian Bradley Architects' children's healthcare project: Designer Forum - Mar 2016

By Derek Noble

What parent hasn’t experienced an apprehensive child when finding out they need to go to the doctor? Baystate Children’s Specialty Center challenged Steffian Bradley Architects (SBA) to redefine the patient experience and physical environment of care with a spirited and unique space where young patients can feel comfortable and happy. 

The Springfield, Massachusetts center was conceived as a stress-free space, supportive and centered on patients whose ages range from infants through the teen years. Families may not realize it immediately, but the flooring choices made in the Specialty Center were some of the most critical design decisions made in reducing the institutional atmosphere and creating a patient-centered, whimsical experience to engage all ages. 

Children entering a typical healthcare environment are often nervous, intimidated and sometimes frightened by an unfamiliar place. Research has shown that the quality of the space has a big impact on a patient’s health, and traditional clinical areas can feel cold, impersonal and alienating. SBA aimed to alleviate these negative connotations associated with a visit to the doctor by providing a fun and interactive environment to distract and entertain children, encouraging them to forget the clinical nature of their visit. Successful pediatric healthcare interiors appeal to diverse age groups through the use of views of nature, lighting, patterns, colors and imagery that everyone can understand and enjoy. At the Specialty Center, creating a holistic experience relied heavily on utilizing flooring materials for aesthetics, comfort, noise control and wayfinding.

SBA has a longstanding relationship with Baystate Health, having worked on inpatient and outpatient facilities across its five campuses for 20 years, and through that time Baystate Children’s Hospital has flourished and expanded. As the hospital grew, SBA was able to develop its branding through the design choices made across all its locations. When Baystate made an organizational decision to consolidate its outpatient pediatric specialties, which were previously located in multiple buildings, the design team knew that not only were they developing an immersive patient experience for one facility, but also building a children’s brand that would be carried across to other Baystate Children’s locations. The bright, colorful, patterned flooring that spans the Specialty Center can also be found in the Baystate Children’s PICU, Inpatient Playdeck and Pediatric Emergency Department. 

The Specialty Center offers over 15 specialties, ranging from endocrinology and weight management to infectious diseases, gastroenterology, neurology and genetics, which gives patients and families in need of diverse care the advantage of being able to spend extended time in a single location. This provided the opportunity for SBA to look at the typical visit comprehensively and allow young patients and their families to create a personal narrative within the environment, revolving design decisions around both the staff and patient experience. A variety of hard surfaces, soft objects, organic shapes, interactive elements and furniture fabrics add richness to the palette, transforming what had once been a tedious and overwhelming experience into something relaxing and enjoyable.

Patients’ expectations of a clinical space immediately change upon entering the Specialty Center, where they are enveloped by color and pattern. The experience begins at the waiting room and reception area, which has been designated the Playtrium. The high-tech area features dedicated play spaces as well as colorful furnishings and mindfully integrated, hands-on activities. Messages of health and wellness are intertwined with entertaining activities and stimulating displays, most notably an interactive digital fish pond positioned on the floor, where projected koi fish react in real-time, darting away before they get stepped on. 

FLOORING CHOICES
The central design element in the Playtrium is the PlayTree, a fanciful abstract tree whose LED color-changing trunk extends to the ceiling with leaves that hover above patients, encompassing the space. Milliken’s Fixate Loop carpet tiles were cut into large organic patterns on the floor to mimic the shape of the canopy of the tree above while creating a meandering path that leads to the reception desk. Keeping with the forest floor theme, Interface’s Urban Retreat carpet tiles in the Grass style were chosen to provide a change of color and texture. The patterns in the flooring transition to Noraplan Environcare rubber tiles to provide an area of increased durability in front of the desk while continuing the overall curvilinear shapes and colors. 

From the Playtrium, patients are escorted down the Path to Wellness, which extends through the building from end to end and leads to the Medical Neighborhoods. Overhead, a sculptural color-changing cloud winds its way down the Path and extends the excitement of the Playtrium, using the same LED technology found in the Playtree. Originally conceived as a stream where patients would literally “flow” from the waiting room to the exam room, the floor pattern retains some of that theme and is reminiscent of a faded watercolor painting. Intersecting and overlapping patterns of Milliken’s Color Wash carpet tiles in Matter-Arbitrary in 17 different colors encourage movement to one of the Neighborhood entrances marked by a brightly painted curved wall. While the Wellness Path could have been specified with hard resilient flooring, continuing carpet throughout the public space was important to reduce noise, soften the clinical feel and unite the spatial experience of moving from the waiting room to the Neighborhoods. 

The Center’s 34 exam rooms, 14 specialty treatment rooms and numerous support spaces are divided into five Neighborhoods, and each is defined by a unique color range to assist with wayfinding and give the specialties an identity. The nurse stations and clinical corridors utilized comfortable, sound absorbing Noraplan Environcare rubber flooring, transitioning from the carpet used in the public space. A custom ribbon pattern of multiple colors matching the color theme was hand cut into the rubber tiles of each Neighborhood, reinforcing the wayfinding throughout the Specialty Center.

The use of color as an identifying element for each Neighborhood is continued at the exam rooms. A different shade of accent paint marks every exam room door and coordinates with the Neighborhood’s identifying hues. Resilient flooring, typically used throughout medical spaces, was limited to the patient exam rooms, where Toli’s FasolPlus homogeneous tile coordinated with accent paint colors. All 21 of the manufacturer’s offered colors were used, though that still fell short of the 57 different accent paint colors throughout the clinical area.

The curved walls, bright colors and bold flooring patterns were carried through the “off-stage” staff areas to create a physical environment that generated as much excitement for staff as the Playtrium did for patients. A mix of Interface’s Imago, Oz and Monochrome carpet tiles were used in the open office and doctors’ offices, and the staff breakroom and locker area utilized the Noraplan Environcare tiles. Both flooring material choices, the carpet and rubber, were chosen not only to carry the aesthetics into the staff spaces, but also for their practical properties of durability and sound absorption.

Baystate’s philosophy of patient care is manifested by the activities inside the Children’s Specialty Center and within the hearts and minds of its staff and community. SBA has redefined the patient experience and the physical environment of care with a spirited and unique space where young patients can feel comfortable and happy. As patients parade across the Wellness Path’s bright carpet tones with its rippled and overlapping colors, they’re not thinking about the doctor’s visit, but rather wondering what color the ceiling will be next. And they’re smiling. Great design starts with an idea and ends with something joyful and positive. It can even make a patient look forward to the next doctor visit. And how often does that happen?

Copyright 2016 Floor Focus