Development and delivery of a new kind of hospital department: an informal, welcoming series of spaces which illustrate how the institutional feel of hospital facilities can become a thing of the past.
The Whittington Hospital, in north London, outlined plans for an Ambulatory Care Centre: an innovative new outpatients’ ward that offers same-day treatment to prevent longer-term admissions. We were commissioned to work on the project alongside Studio Tilt, with a shared brief to create a welcoming and informal environment, to support these services.
Initially, Studio Tilt carried out a series of workshops to establish what was really required for the space. These involved patients, clinicians, administrators and senior managers, giving everyone who used the space a voice in the design process. This unearthed some simple design priorities for the space: clear signage, a communal area and café, and a tranquil setting.
Using these findings, Tilt developed design concepts for the new centre, including seating, spatial arrangement and simpler interventions (changing the word ‘Paediatrics’ to ‘Children’s Department’, for instance). Our role was to translate these concepts into detailed plans and steer the projects through completion. Crucially, we also developed these creative ideas with the practical needs of a hospital: security, sustainability and infection control.
The design splits the centre into a series of dynamic zones, each adapted for different users and uses: a children’s space at one end, adults at the other, and an informal, comfortable café area in the middle with a range of furniture.
Within this, a number of particular interventions stand out: the children’s area features child-sized furniture and a play space that allows clinicians to observe children; whilst the nurses’ station provides 360 degree views of the waiting area to ensure waiting patients are stable and safe. At the same time, smaller glazed areas to give clinicians space to converse, protecting patient confidentiality.
The design philosophy is perhaps best embodied in the phlebotomy booth. Whilst private when necessary, this light-filled booth, where patients give blood, is placed in the middle of the communal space, within easy reach of the café, and not hidden away. This helps to further demystify and normalise the process: patients can have a blood test, go and get a cup of coffee, then wait to see their doctor in comfort. The space quite literally demonstrates the benefits of an integrated care model.
Another significant move was to commission locally based artist Alex Green to design a series of murals depicting the wild spaces and swimming ponds of nearby Hampstead Heath to create a calming backdrop for the space. Elements of these graphics are also used to provide intuitive wayfinding within the building in the form of varied shapes and colours of leaves.
The combined impact of all these innovations has been to create a world-class medical environment that doesn’t feel like a hospital. The Whittington Ambulatory Care Centre is a calm, informal and relaxing space, which works well for both patients and staff.