Live Long & Prosper - Healthcare Winner - Childrens's Hospital, Norfolk, VA

Aug. 10, 2001
Live Long & Prosper

The mystery of Saturn's rings, Jupiter's moons, and other heavenly bodies has delighted astronomers and laypeople alike. Now these same images are delighting patients and their families in Norfolk, VA. Food Lion Children's Rehabilitation Unit at the Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD) adds a healthy dose of imagination to a serious space.

Norfolk, VA, and the surrounding Virginia Beach region lacked a long-term rehabilitation facility for its children. This need spurred the non-profit hospital to transform the 17,000-square-foot outpatient space on its seventh floor into a rehab facility. Supermarket chain Food Lion, Norfolk, VA, sponsored the acute care unit with a $627,000 gift. Roanoke, VA-based architecture firm HSMM worked with the hospital's facilities management department to make the facility - pardon the pun! - out of this world.

Without a local rehab facility, the families of sick children were forced to travel long distances. "It's vital to have families close at hand during [a child's] long-term rehab," says Jamie Gaabo, lead interior designer, HSMM, Roanoke, VA. The average patient's length of stay is four weeks, though it can range anywhere from several weeks to several months.

Since the age range of patients is from toddlers to teenagers, it is a challenge to design an interior that appeals to all ages. "[CHKD] does a lot with making its facilities less institutional in design that adds to the health environment for the children," says Gaabo. For three years, graphic artists from the nearby NASA-Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, had been volunteering at the hospital. The hospital had a wealth of astronomy-based professional artwork and photography. Taking this good work as inspiration, the facilities and design professionals decided upon a deep space theme.

"Some of the physical therapy is very painful; this is the hardest work imaginable to ask a child to do. It's important for the place to have a sense of specialness, a place that's really fun," says George Stinnett, hospital spokesperson, CHKD, Norfolk, VA. From top to bottom, the rehab facility echoes this fun, fanciful approach. A textured custom carpet features images of constellations, comets, and quasars nestled in a midnight blue background - defining the space and unifying the facility.

On the walls in patients' rooms, almost in concert with original artwork, wallpaper borders bear star configurations. Rooms are even named after constellations to educate patients about astronomy terms.

Continuing the star-studded theme, the primary nurses' stations are fashioned as a futuristic command center. With space-age curves, the workstations are ergonomically designed to benefit hard-working staff members - and are scaled down to be more approachable for young patients.

Approachable also means adhering to normal family routines - including occasions for celebration. The unit needed a suitable space for numerous children's birthday parties and informal get-togethers. Adjacent to the primary nurses' stations is the Saturn Lounge, a multi-purpose break room. The heavily used break room features durable vinyl flooring sprinkled with colorful planets and an open-frame, industrial-looking ceiling with a metallic-blue, star-spangled background. Though sturdy, the space is more Buck Rogers than General Hospital.

The facility's most impressive feature is its Moonwalk. The project team collaborated with artist volunteers from NASA to take the unit's interior corridor in a different direction. Bright alien landscape murals, featuring child-friendly extraterrestrials, cover the walls and ceilings.

"There is a sense of ownership in our community with this project. A lot of volunteers, young adults mostly, donated late nights and weekends to create this striking feature," says Stinnett. The unit became a NASA-approved community project. Black lights and displays lend the corridor an other-worldly atmosphere.

The staff is proud of the unusual workplace; even their medical uniforms pay homage to space travel. And the playful design resonates with patients and their families. "I think that having a theme that ties the design into something concrete instead of simply an attractive space is important in children's spaces. It adds a lot of life," says Gaabo.

The Food Lion Children's Rehabilitation Unit is wonderfully alive. The facility is a bold adventure that never forgets the needs of its young patients.

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