Curving glass, granite, a ribbon-like front entrance canopy, and steel details play off one another in the whimsical design approach of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. The new eight-story, 206-inpatient-bed structure opened February 2004 to replace the former children's “hospital within a hospital” that was located on two and a half floors of Vanderbilt University Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Accommodating families to an unprecedented level, the hospital devotes one-third of its total 616,785 square feet to family space. Vanderbilt chose to emphasize family-centered care because of its essentiality to the continuum of care.

Project category: New construction (completed January 2004)

Chief administrator: Fred DeWeese, Vice-President for Facilities Planning & Development, (615) 322-4962

Firm: Earl Swensson Associates, Inc., (615) 329-9445

Design team: Richard L. Miller, FAIA, President, Principal-in-Charge; David Miller, AIA, Senior Project Architect; Molly Alspaugh, IIDA, Interior Designer; Ruby Foglesong, IIDA, Interior Designer

Photography: © Hedrich Blessing (Craig Dugan, Scott McDonald)

Total building area (sq. ft.): 616,785

Construction cost/sq. ft.: $217

Total cost (excluding land): $134,000,000

Even the hospital's exterior reflects the family-friendly focus, integrating crayon-like tubes that house family areas, and cones disguising mechanical elements. In addition to family accommodations in the individual patient rooms, the hospital offers separate family sleep rooms; lounges featuring kitchens, laundry facilities, and business centers; and separate quiet rooms within “neighborhood”-themed arrangements of floors.

Providing so extensively for families is only part of the hospital's uniqueness. For example, the emergency department has one of the first level-one trauma units just for children, and the myelosuppression unit on the sixth floor is one of a kind. The entire unit is sealed and filtered, not only in the individual patient rooms, but also in the play area so that children can leave their rooms to play and do homework.

Because the physical environment is critical to the healing process, evidence-based design is integrated throughout the hospital's exterior and interiors. Clinical areas are introduced from a child's perspective to alleviate fear: Counters at nurses’ stations are at a child's height; stars twinkle on wallcovering in a nuclear medicine suite; friendly, colorful bugs, amphibians, and animals march across floors and nurses’ stations; and colorful reliefs look down from the ceilings of patient-transport elevator cabs. Secure outdoor gardens (one with a koi pond and whimsical sculpture pieces), a performance stage, and a children's theater are employed as diversions to take a child's mind off his or her illness.

Equipped with the latest advanced technology for healthcare delivery, the children's hospital is also designed to create efficiencies for medical personnel. For example, trauma and critical care patient areas are corralled around nurse work areas that have full view of all rooms. Sensitivity to medical personnel is also evident with the provision of areas for staff to have some quiet time to decompress.