St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto wanted kids walking into its CIBC Just For Kids Clinic to feel at ease inside the hospital clinic environment. The goal was to create a more playful, child-friendly environment by combining art and architecture to encourage a sense of discovery and engagement, making  the clinic feel more like a playground than a waiting room.

The hospital also wanted to improve the functionality of the space, creating more integrated, and efficient workspaces for clinical and administrative staff. Improved workflow would in turn support smoother and more efficient clinic visits for children and families.

The project, which opened in April 2016, included renovating the reception/waiting area of the walk-in clinic and adding two exam rooms (bringing the total to four), with thematic artwork in each area. Additionally, the six-bed surgical day unit for pre- and post-operative care was upgraded and a series of small renovations was made to the child and adolescent mental health space—all of which was accomplished on a budget of just over $1 million.

The design process began with a series of questions about how to reduce the stress and anxiety of the care process by creating an environment that was interesting, interactive, and familiar. The project became an exercise in re-visiting the traditional architectural experience children have—from materials, colors, shapes of spaces, and how people move through space.

An open collaboration between Diamond Schmitt Architects (Toronto), the architecture firm on the project, and a professional children's book illustrator and an artist specializing in small-scale haptic environments led to an approach to create elements on many different scales to leverage children’s inherent sense of discovery.

For example, tiny dioramas were constructed to fit inside walls, such as at the reception desk, where curious patients can view animated worlds via peepholes. (Click here for a video that shows an example of the dioramas.)

Sketches and 3-D digital models were used to analyze program needs and alternatives and a series of iterative options were developed and reviewed with the client to help them visualize the reconfigured spaces and comment on what would best serve their needs. The artists also prepared mock-ups and test illustrations. Finally, the design elements went through a multi-phased review with the client, fabricators, and subcontractors to confirm the most effective means of construction prior to execution.

The CIBC Just for Kids Clinic opened in spring 2016. Other additions, such as imagery and seating on exterior terraces, are planned for future phases.