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Building an environment that is calm, playful

Rochester Business Journal
May 22, 2015


“The game-changer for a children’s hospital is that the environment doesn’t feel that clinical,” says Elizabeth Lattimore, the hospital's chief administrative officer.(Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)

Sick kids don’t like going to the hospital. Their parents don’t like taking them there, and they certainly don’t want to have to leave them there for an extended period of time.

So, the people behind the construction of the new Golisano Children’s Hospital tasked themselves with making it easier for kids to feel comfortable at the hospital, for parents to breathe a sigh of relief instead of dread when they walk through the halls, and for family members to feel at ease visiting sick children in the various wards.

“The game-changer for a children’s hospital is that the environment doesn’t feel that clinical,” said Elizabeth Lattimore, the hospital’s chief administrative officer. “When they get here, we want to make sure that it is something that is calm and playful and magical so that it reduces their stress, anxiety and fear.”

Much of that has to do with little surprises tucked here and there throughout the building, things that will capture children’s imaginations and make them think about a different place, Lattimore said.

“They know they’re in a hospital, but hopefully the environment is making them feel like they’re somewhere else,” she explained.

Lattimore noted that with Rochester’s four distinct seasons, the designers, architects and focus groups chose to celebrate those seasons by bringing the outdoors in. Each floor of the hospital is decorated in a different theme to represent the landscapes Rochesterians know and love, while also catering to the needs any hospital might have such as sterile equipment, sound-absorbing materials and other things conducive to patient health.

The first floor of the hospital is the lobby, which incorporates each of the other floors’ themes in collages and colors. The ground level is a lake and waterway theme, while the third level, or the neonatal intensive care unit, is meadow-themed to represent emerging life.

The fourth floor, which eventually will house the pediatric operating rooms, is a glen or valley theme, while the sixth floor will be themed farms and gardens.

A vital ingredient to making a children’s hospital more pleasing is its “wayfinding.” Wayfinding is how you navigate through a hospital to your destination, Lattimore explained, using signs, arrows, colors and more.

Hospital officials wanted to improve on existing wayfinding.

“Your landscape has an icon and if you know your icon and the floor number, that’s all you really need to know,” Lattimore said. “So you don’t have to stand in front of a totem and read lots of words with arrows pointing in a million different directions, you just follow your icon and you’ll get to your destination.”

Local custom and architectural sign company id Signsystems Inc. has spent the last six months or more engineering the wayfinding for Golisano Children’s Hospital based on the original designs.

“There are a lot of moving parts, especially on the interior systems, to capture the look that the designers are trying to achieve,” IDS president Paul Dudley said. “I’d say 90 percent of the signs went through a process of evaluation, how we could make them more efficient.”

A hospital environment is a rough one, Dudley noted, so the company had to design and build signage that would be both robust and elegant, working with a palette of 20 colors.

IDS used some of the latest LED technology to light exterior signs, Dudley said, which in addition to looking good will save the hospital money. The paint the company used is as tough and strong as the paint on a car, he added, so the signs will last longer without fading.

“We’ve gone through a long process of approval and testing to make sure that the colors look perfect,” Dudley said. “They’re the right saturation, and they give a very deep and rich color when they’re illuminated.”

From words to color to theme, he said, everyone knows what each floor is and how to get where they need to go easily and quickly.

“The graphic imagery and the sign systems all work cohesively together to allow people to find their way more effectively,” he said.

In addition to unique wayfinding throughout the building, Golisano Children’s Hospital had to consider numerous other items that would not only work within the themes but also would be conducive to health care and stand the test of time.

“Finding the materials that would stand up to wear and tear over time and the chemicals we use in the hospital was the hardest part,” Lattimore said.

The testing process was designed to expedite the result of using certain items with what would commonly be found and used in the hospital so they could see the end result much sooner and decide if the product would work.

“We would see these great designs, we would test the materials and 60 percent of them failed and we were back to the drawing board,” Lattimore explained. “We probably spent six months alone validating all of our choices.”

The designers wanted the hospital to be friendly to children and less intimidating for the entire family, so wherever possible they used fun colors and props such as games and tubes with floating bubbles to engage patients and their families.

The hospital incorporated the ideas of “onstage” and “offstage” into the new design; anything that patients and their families do not need to see would be hidden, or offstage, while everything onstage would be things that families need to see and know about.

Disguises were used throughout the hospital so kids would not see the offstage things that might frighten them, such as imaging and test equipment.

“When you walk into the room you don’t see the machine, you see a dock or a lighthouse,” Lattimore said. “They disguised the machine and then they kept it consistent with the theme of the floor.”

The choice of glass throughout the hospital was an important one because it needed to filter the correct amount of light and provide privacy where necessary. Flower City Glass was chosen for the project, which included interior and exterior glass products.

Roughly eight different types of glass were used on the building’s facade, said Derek Ristau, Flower City Glass vice president of contract division. Exterior glasses include those with low-e coatings, which minimize the amount of ultraviolet and infrared light that passes through without compromising the amount of visible light.

Etched glass also was chosen for the project, as well as OptiBlue, or tinted glass, and fritted glass, which is a porous glass that gas or liquid can pass through.

“The most dramatic part of the project is the interior glass and all the custom graphics,” Flower City owner Richard Gianforti said, noting that the images have a way of softening the look and feel of the space.

The products are some of the most current technology available in terms of energy performance, Gianforti noted, such as the first-floor windows that are low-iron, insulated glass for maximum vision and light transmittance.

Silhouettes of the Rochester skyline adorn the glass on the eighth floor, while images of tall grass and butterflies are imprinted on the inner layer of glass on the seventh floor, Ristau noted.

“It really makes a big difference, of incorporating this custom-designed glass into the space,” Gianforti said. “It makes an institution with a clinical purpose feel more soft and homey to try to make it a comfortable environment.”

Golisano Children’s Hospital was able to do a lot with a small fraction of the overall budget, Lattimore said.

“All of the beauty that people will see in the next month or so as it relates to the interiors of the hospital is less than 1 percent of the total project budget,” she noted. “It’s color, it’s etching, it’s artwork, design patterns in the floor … it’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t cost that much money but just adds so much to the environment.”

Over the last few years, Lattimore visited numerous children’s hospitals to see what others were doing.

“A lot of the new hospitals that were built have really expansive, really immersive lobby areas, so when you first walk into the hospital it’s this massive child-friendly lobby, but then as you move through the hospital the journey (became less appealing),” Lattimore said.

What Golisano Children’s Hospital officials wanted to do was devote most of their attention to where the patients will spend most of their time.

“Because our patients are not in the lobbies, they’re in the patients’ wards,” Lattimore explained. “And that’s what they’re going to remember, so that’s where we spent a lot of focus.”

5/22/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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