After operating for more than 10 years, the Child Life Zone at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston was starting to show some wear and tear. “With thousands of patients and families using the space over the years, it was well loved,” says Mary E. Tietjens, child life manager at Texas Children’s Hospital.

The dated layout was also inefficient, with the 2,557-square-foot room divided into two sides (one for preteens, the other for teens), housing games for each and a small galley kitchen in the middle.

In 2012, Teammates for Kids Foundation, an organization that works with professional athletes to raise money for children’s charities, approached the hospital about giving the room a facelift. The nearly $1 million project took six months to complete and was unveiled in June. The foundation’s architect, Rex L. Carpenter (Denver), worked with the hospital’s facilities department on the renovation.

In the end, the hospital got more than an update—it also got a bigger space on the 16th floor of the west tower to serve a broader age range of patients, ages 6-21, with new programming and activities. By converting a nearby vending room into a workroom for Zone staff members, the space was expanded to 2,935 square feet.

The enlarged open-concept space supports a media wall for gaming, arcade games, a full-size air hockey table, a stage with theater-style lighting for performances, and a large, drop-down screen and projector.

Tietjens says the kitchen was also expanded with a 24-foot-long counter and industrial grade appliances, so hospital chefs and dietitians can host monthly healthy cooking programs for patients and families.

The updated Kids Own Studio includes a new music studio for writing and recording music, the Radio Lollipop program, and closed-circuit television, which allows the hospital to bring Zone programming to patients who are in isolation.

In addition to enhancing the care experience for patients and their families, Tietjens says the renovation was also designed to appeal to other care services, including physical and occupational therapists.

“The child may be involved in a painting project, but the therapist is working on helping the child regain fine motor skills,” she says. “The child’s therapy sessions no longer seem like ‘work.’”

Anne DiNardo is senior editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at