An interior space with a distinct theme is common practice in restaurant and hotel design. But in recent years, more healthcare organizations, particularly children’s hospitals, have begun adopting themed designs—and with good reason. Fierce competition is one market factor fueling this trend. A memorable interior is one way a hospital can stand out among its peers. At the same time, users—patients, families, and staff—have become accustomed to more refined and sophisticated designs in retail and hospitality spaces and expect the same from healthcare buildings.
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Many healthcare architects and designers, however, blanch at the thought of theming, fearing cartoonish or Las Vegas-style execution. But a thorough understanding of the benefits and hazards of theming, combined with a disciplined process and a well-developed concept, can ease those concerns and result in spaces that not only meet complex functional and stringent technical requirements, but also benefit clients and delight users.
Recently, my firm incorporated a “Passport to Discovery” theme at the newly opened University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis (See Showcase here). Our experience yielded best practices that can help in theming any healthcare environment.
What is a theme?
There is a fine distinction between an interior design concept and an interior design theme. Both act as a framework from which further design language can be developed. While a concept deals with the basic planning diagram and defines the relationship among different design elements, a theme is an overlay to a concept that helps tie all of the various spaces together.
At Amplatz Children’s Hospital, the interior design concept was to maximize daylight, aid wayfinding, and enhance the user experience by introducing “light zones” at various points throughout the building. The “Passport to Discovery” theme takes that idea further, designating each floor as a unique habitat and assigning each clinical area (sometimes multiple spaces on one floor) a storyteller that is an animal from that habitat. Each patient is issued a “passport” at check-in; as they travel through the hospital, they receive stamps on their passport.