When teenagers have cancer they now have their own custom-designed hospital space to be treated in, where they can be private if they want, relax together and still be teenagers
Client: Birmingham Children’s Hospital
Design: Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands
Size: 400 sq m
Completion time: 55 weeks
When we think of cancer patients, we tend not to think of teenagers and young adults. Yet every day in the UK six young people between the ages of 13 and 24 are told they have cancer, and too often they find themselves receiving treatment on children’s wards decorated with Mickey Mouse wallpaper or on adult wards among much older people.
The Teenage Cancer Trust charity was set up to improve the lives of young people with cancer, and part of its mission involves building specialist treatment centres for teenagers, such as this one designed by architecture practice Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands as an extension to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital oncology ward.
Operated by the NHS the centre provides six new bed spaces as two single rooms and a four-bed ward, all within a new building. But as Chloë Phelps of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands explains, creating a teenager-friendly space within strict NHS guidelines wasn’t easy.
‘We certainly had hurdles to overcome, the largest ones being NHS constraints,’ says Phelps. ‘For example, we wanted to get some plants into the ward, even if they were in a vitrine, but the NHS simply didn’t have the resources to maintain them. We were trying to think outside the box in terms of what you would usually have in a hospital ward, but sometimes we would have to scale back those ideas to make it practical.’
In terms of the interior, the biggest challenge was choosing the right materials, says Phelps: ‘We needed to find materials that were aesthetically pleasing and nice to be around that were also compliant with all the regulations.’
For the floors, Phelps and her team wanted something ‘warmer’ and more natural than a standard vinyl, so chose a rubber floor by Nora. ‘It may not sound that adventurous,’ says Phelps, ‘but these small moves away from the standard hospital environment can make a big difference.’
The design of the building maximises natural light wherever possible, and artificial lighting is of a much higher spec than you’d find in a standard NHS environment. ‘We had to fight a battle on that front,’ says Phelps, ‘because using different products meant the main hospital would have to find another storage cupboard for all the spares and replacement light bulbs.’
When most of us think of hospitals the image of interminable corridors, badly lit with strip lights probably comes to mind. To get away from this, Phelps and her team decided to turn one of the corridors into a destination in itself, a place where patients can go to relax. ‘A lot of teenagers feel that there’s a lack of privacy in NHS wards,’ says Phelps, ‘and this area gave us the opportunity to give them another option. We wanted it to be a habitable room that makes a statement as soon as you walk in.’
A floor-to-ceiling image of the Lake District dominates one wall, and adjacent to that Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands created The Den – a series of alcoves where patients can sit with some privacy. Each is designed with a different activity in mind. One is based on the shape of Le Corbusier’s Chaise Lounge, another is designed so that groups of two or three people can sit in it, and another can accommodate a wheelchair.
Each alcove is upholstered in green polyurethane fabric from Camira’s Virtual Plus range. ‘It was a challenge to find the best material that came in the right colour, was comfortable, and fulfilled all of the NHS requirements,’ says Phelps. ‘It couldn’t be permeable and it had to be easy to clean with a bleach solution.
As many of the patients spend a lot of time in bed from where, in a standard hospital, their view would be a patch of white ceiling and some medical equipment, Phelps and the design team installed skylights above each bed. Each one is lit with colour-changing LEDs so that patients can choose from several colours.
Each bed has an integrated cupboard and wardrobe with a desk and fold-down bed so that friends and relatives can sleep over, and medical equipment is neatly stowed away to make the space feel more domestic.
The social area, where patients get together to relax and watch DVDs, has large David Chipperfield sofas upholstered in the same green fabric as the alcoves. ‘These sofas are perfect because as well as looking great they also give the right amount of support and height,’ says Phelps. The room also has stylish Ron Arad Rocking chairs.
‘The Teenage Cancer Trust believes that teenagers shouldn’t have to stop being teenagers because they have cancer,’ says Phelps, ‘so we wanted to add a touch of fun to the interior, striking a balance between a safe hospital environment and one that has a bit of youth and vitality about it.’
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