Project category: Remodel/Renovation (completed November 2004)

Chief administrator: John Nash, Chief Operating Officer, (901) 495-3300

Firm: Artimpact, Inc., (786) 556-8930

Design team: Claudio Perez-Leon, President, Art Director (Artimpact, Inc.); Reb Haizlip, Principal; Charlotte Davis, Interior Designer (The Haizlip Firm); John Curran, Director, Design and Construction; Kimberly Michael, Project Manager (St. Jude Children's Research Hospital)

Photography: Jere Parobek, Biomedical Photography Manager

Total area (sq. ft.): 200,000

Average cost/sq. ft.: $4.50

When children begin treatment for cancer or other life-threatening diseases at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, their experience involves much more than drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy. Patients sometimes spend months receiving therapy in the inpatient unit. The hospital's family- centered approach to treatment, therefore, involves creating an environment that fosters healing. This philosophy has been reflected in hospital renovations during the past four years.

In 2001, the hospital began renovating its interior spaces. This project was designed to promote children's and teens' normal need for play, to encourage them to leave their beds and explore their surroundings, and to engage them in exercise and distraction.

To create this patient-centered environment, St. Jude planners blended elements of humor, play, and physical activity into an integrated art and interior design program. The renovation included changes in inpatient units, construction of play areas, development of a Family Resource Center, and the creation of wall murals and complementary floor designs. The renovated spaces embody an inviting sense of friendliness and expansiveness, reinforcing an expectation of hope that enables children to move forward toward wellness.

In May of 2002, The Haizlip Firm and Artimpact, Inc., developed preliminary designs for a comprehensive expression of St. Jude's identity as an inviting, family-centered place to be. As an important part of those designs, the new murals bring the exterior world inside, allowing patients to “tour” many landmarks of Memphis and surrounding areas and states. Because much of this transformation occurred within fully operational inpatient units, it was imperative to safeguard the immune-suppressed patients and avoid disrupting patient care.

The design plan included specific features and themes to help individuals find their way and to create an individual identity for each sector of the inpatient units. For example, since children from around the globe come to St. Jude for treatment, the main corridor's entrance includes a colorful compass on the floor and “welcome” signs emblazoned in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Turkish.

In keeping with the hospital's family-centered care philosophy, feedback from patients, their families, and staff was sought as the project progressed. Easels positioned in common areas allowed individuals to offer comments; many suggestions were incorporated into the murals. In response to patients' comments that certain patterns and colors reminded them of unpleasant chemotherapy drugs, the artists avoided using moiré patterns and large color fields in oranges, yellows, and chartreuse.

Children undergoing chemotherapy are also extremely sensitive to infection-causing bacteria and to scents, which can cause nausea. Therefore, the artists used hospital-grade paint or ammonia-free acrylics and regularly discarded their brushes and containers to avoid spreading bacteria.

The murals allow patients and their families to “travel” to distinct destinations, greeted by whimsical creatures and people engaged in everyday activities. Users can “visit” the zoo or “cross” a bridge over the Mississippi River. They can “watch” riverboats arrive and depart, marvel at the brilliant colors of a balloon festival, or enjoy a carriage ride downtown. Because of the long lengths-of-stay children may experience, the artists attempted to provide enough detail so that viewers would need a long time to discover every event, place, and character. Different levels of visual narrative make it virtually impossible for anyone to absorb a whole mural in one stroll.

A series of exercise areas has been created in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. The design encourages physical activity, which in turn boosts patients' immune systems and enhances their recovery. Characters depicted in the painted golf course, pool, and soccer field are engaged, excited, and content—even when they, too, have lost their hair or are wearing prostheses.

More than 20 artists participated in the project, which encompasses 200,000 square feet of murals to date. If patients or siblings asked to participate in the project, they were granted their wish. The youngest artist was six; she painted some leaves in the bushes. Even though artists later touched up her artwork, the extra work was well worth it. After all, the project was not simply about getting a job done; it was about touching lives and helping children gain confidence.

The hospital and artists have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from patients, families, staff, and visitors on the child-friendly renovations to the St. Jude Patient Care Center. Thanks to dedicated teamwork among hospital employees, architects, and artists, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital continues to approach healthcare in a manner that is unique, progressive, and trendsetting.