Decoding Design

In Columbus, a hospital designed for purposeful distraction

In Columbus, a hospital designed for purposeful distraction

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Nationwide Children's Hospital and Ralph Appelbaum Associates design a hospital to help people forget they are in a hospital.

Because being in a hospital can be an anxious, stressful experience, especially for children, Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio wanted to provide an environment where children, their families, and caregivers will feel empowered and calm. Working with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the hospital created a new 12 story nature themed bedtower that provides comfort and control.

The engaging, cheerful nature concept is reinforced with wooden woodland creatures placed throughout the hospital that act as part of the wayfinding as well as identity system. Educational niches and displays are meant to provide "purposeful distraction." In other words, they help patients and visitors forget they are in a hospital.

A thoughtful design strategy that is not meant to be noticed is placing computer stations, work areas, and educational spaces away from the patient rooms. This reduces foot traffic and stressful distractions directly around patient rooms.

Inside the rooms, colorful LED headwalls are controlled by the patients. The walls glow and change at the push of a button, encouraging children to feel ownership of the space. The changing lights also create a playful, kaleidoscope-like display on the exterior.

The highlight of the hospital's renovation is the Magic Forest, an interactive play and relaxation area. The main function of the space is to provide a happy escape. Two-story high trees, more woodland creatures, colorful wall graphics, and activity areas let patients mentally get away. The Magic Forest has been such a hit that nurses on the clinical therapy floors are using trips to the Forest as incentives for patients.

Nationwide Children's Hospital is ranked 7th (tied with Children's Hospital Colorado) in U.S. News' Best Children's Hospitals, and its new bed tower is part of a huge campus expansion meant to raise its reputation.

Images: courtesy Nationwide Children's Hospital

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure