Bob Darlington has one word that sums up his experience: “Awesome.”

Patients, families, staff and physicians meet in early September to review the latest iteration of interior design concepts for the new maternal and children’s hospital.

Patients, families, staff and physicians meet in early September to review the latest iteration of interior design concepts for the new maternal and children’s hospital.

It’s a word that you might not expect Darlington to utter given his journey. He has spent countless hours watching his child battle illness while confined to a hospital bed. But now, he is turning those experiences into something positive by helping to create a home within a hospital for other Saskatchewan families.

Sitting at the table with architects, staff, physicians, Saskatoon Health Region leaders and other parents, he has watched and helped evolve the inside of the province’s new maternal and children’s hospital.

“This team is really good about listening to comments and concerns and seeing what they can do with it,” he says.

Voices of children, teenagers and families help form design
Darlington’s voice and the voices of hundreds of families from across Saskatchewan have shaped the interior design for Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan.

“We have an overarching concept we have been using as we develop the overall design and that is ‘the land of the living sky,’” explains Anita Rossen, lead interior designer with ZGF based in Seattle, Washington. “It really has to do with the province of Saskatchewan, its natural beauty and the regions of your province.”

Working with HDH Architects in Saskatoon, Rossen and her team are creating the inside of the new hospital. The concepts they have drawn come from the ideas captured during the detailed design phase where Saskatoon Health Region reached out to communities across the province in classroom-based design sessions, input from pediatric patients and mail-in ideas from schools across the province. They received hundreds of patient room layouts, collages and packing lists, along with clear direction on the favourite colours, images, shapes and animals from children aged five to 18.

Rossen’s team spent countless hours analyzing each submission. She describes how her team placed all the submissions around a room in their Seattle office one day. “The impact that it had that day was so visceral and so emotional for everyone on the team. You could really see the diversity amongst genders. You could get a sense of where the kids lived whether it was in the colder climate in the north with different kinds of animals versus the south. You could really see the personality of the kids in the place and we want to translate that to the interior environment. Each of those areas (in the hospital) has a different personality and it all comes out of that outreach work.”

The result is a theme on each of the five patient floors such as lake (emergency and surgery), forest (lobby and pediatric outpatients) and prairie (maternal). Each floor has chosen animals and graphics meant to bring those regions to life.

A sample of the main graphics that will appear on each floor: The graphics reflect a “hand-drawn” quality that designers created after being inspired by the hundreds of room layouts submitted by children and teenagers from across the province.

A sample of the main graphics that will appear on each floor: The graphics reflect a “hand-drawn” quality that designers created after being inspired by the hundreds of room layouts submitted by children and teenagers from across the province.

From the hands of children
“The main graphics we are using have a very unique hand-drawn sketch quality. I have not seen it done this way before and that came directly from looking at all of the community outreach,” she says. “The children were asked to draw their floor plans and little drawings that would describe their ideal patient setting and ideal patient room. And it was that sketch quality of a child’s hand in crayon, coloured pencil and pen that drew inspiration. It moved us so much to see that work and to experience the kids in that way. It felt so relatable and so precious that we ended up using that as the main driver for the graphics.”

The graphics, the colours, materials and furniture plans for each floor and each patient room have been brought back to a team of physicians, staff and families through a series of interior design meetings. Over the past few months, this large interior design group has reviewed and offered feedback on the designers’ concepts with the latest of these meetings happening in early September.

“The kids are really being listened to,” says Shaylene Smith, Saskatoon Health Region’s pediatric recreational therapist and child life specialist who is part of the interior design group. Smith also worked with some of her patients to capture their ideas during the detailed design phase.

“(The children) identified the different animals that they wanted to see. They wanted the environment to have colour and warmth so that they could feel more like in a home environment – as close to home as you can in a hospital setting. And I think we are really coming close to giving them what they are asking for.”

Using design and science to pick colours and distract from pain
But what is becoming even more apparent is the complexity of creating an interior design for a hospital. The designers are looking more at just how to make this facility colourful. Using their vast experience in designing other children’s hospitals throughout the United States, they layer on the science of interior design and the operational intent of each space to make decisions.
“Areas like the emergency department need to have a fairly soothing palette and graphic quality to them because this is a place where people have high levels of anxiety,” explains Rossen. “We know from colour studies that colours in the blue, purple and lavender range help with diminishing pain in the qualitative way. Another good example is the surgery department. We use bright yellows because it is a colour of awakening and it helps people wake up. And that is what we want – patients wake up smoothly and transition to discharge.”

The complexity of design doesn’t end there. The interior designers are also incorporating positive distractions so that no matter how many times a child may come to hospital, there is something new to see each time.

“For example, hidden creatures that might not be obvious the first time; but maybe the fifth time you come, you realize you never saw that little snail climbing up the door frame or never saw that frog jumping off the dispenser,” Rossen says.

The designers are also looking for ways to create distractions with medical equipment that tends to be constructed with institutional colours like beige or grey. “If you put that equipment against a coloured wall, it’ll stand out,” she says. “Now, if that piece of equipment is in front of a wall that is the same color, it blends in and goes away. And then you put a pop of colour in a different but key location and you have positive distraction.”

Choosing textures and materials is a complex process. This sample palette is being considered for the new maternal rooms. The materials are meant to reflect prairie colours while providing a calming and “spa-like” atmosphere for patient rooms.

Choosing textures and materials is a complex process. This sample palette is being considered for the new maternal rooms. The materials are meant to reflect prairie colours while providing a calming and “spa-like” atmosphere for patient rooms.

Spending money on patients, not on changing styles
When developing a colour scheme and choosing materials and furniture, the designers are keeping in mind future maintenance. While bright colours are important, there is a basic palette of neutral colours that’s planned as well, especially on long term elements, like flooring which is expensive to change with trends.

The designers are also creating their plans to ensure money is spent where it will benefit patients and families most. For example, they are looking at furniture systems that will work for the entire building so that as pieces migrate to other departments over the life of a building, those pieces will work with the interior design no matter where they go.

“You want to spend money on patient equipment or diagnostic treatment,” she says. “You don’t want to spend money on high maintenance facilities that require a lot of very fussy repair work. Otherwise, you will have people trying to figure out, for example, what flooring was used on level 3 versus saying ‘I know what it is because we have two choices.’ It makes it very simple.”

Creating a healing environment within a lean hospital
Finally, the interior design needs to work for a lean hospital – a new concept for Saskatchewan. Rossen says lean became a big factor when determining the interior design concepts and it’s a concept she and her team are familiar with having designed other children’s hospitals such as Seattle Children’s.

“The trick with lean is that things are out in the open,” she says. “Equipment and supplies that used to be behind cabinet doors and locked in rooms are now where you can access them as you need them.” That’s meant to allow care teams to spend time with patients, not hunting for supplies.

It’s all these nuances and the expertise behind the concepts that has Bob Darlington excited for the future. The interior design will be finalized in the coming months as the Health Region’s project team finishes up the blueprints by the end of the year and prepares all the material for Ministry of Health’s approval.

“I think we are going to nail it,” says Darlington, “because they are getting so much input and detail and taking comments and concerns and working with it and going forward with it. So, I think it’s going to be really, really good.”

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