Last year we completed the Children’s Neurosciences Centre at St Thomas’ Hospital.   This multi-million pound clinic facility was built for the assessment of children and young adults diagnosed with a wide range of severe behaviour problems: some subdued; some highly intelligent; some severely disabled and others requiring speech and other therapies.  The clinic facilities include assessment and observation rooms with live-feed monitoring systems, medical examination rooms and specialist therapy rooms.  There is also an independent, self-contained sleep assessment clinic, aptly named the “Sleep-over Hotel”.  There are extensive support facilities for the staff which include state-of-the-art conference suite, training rooms, meeting rooms and offices.

TPaediatric Neuroscience Lab Opening-30ahe facility was officially opened by Rt Hon John Bercow MP (Speaker of the House of Commons) and Patricia Moberly (former Chairman of Guy’s and St Thomas’). Mr Bercow’s son had been a patient at the centre, and said that the new facility “respected” autistic children like no other facility.  He went on to say, “My son was treated by Professor Gillian Baird in the old unit at Guy’s Hospital, so I see first hand the difference it makes.”

Gillian Baird (OBE), Professor of Paediatric Neurodisability, also paid tribute to the people present who had been key to the success of the project.  “Staff and designers worked with patients, families and experts to create the perfect environment for the children, many of whom have autism spectrum disorders or physical disabilities.”

Patient sensitivity…

Former and existing patients were also present at the opening, some of whom had been consulted by our design team at several stages of the design process.  The feedback they provided at key stages in the design development was particularly valuable as research in the field formed an essential part of our design approach. Society’s understanding of people with autism spectrum disorders is continually evolving, therefore we visited special teaching schools, met with specialist consultants and researched the very latest guidance to ensure that our designs were relevant and built with future staff and patients in mind.

Some of the design elements had to be given particularly careful consideration and thoroughly researched.  For instance we referred to latest university research and held numerous consultations just to arrive at an agreed colour scheme.  We were determined to introduce colours to create a welcoming and stimulating environment, but this proved to be particularly challenging as certain colours can cause adverse reactions and discomfort for certain patients. However we eventually agreed upon a palette of colours that received a positive response from staff, parents and patients.

Art and the environment…

The sensitivity of the patients meant that every aspect of the proposed environment had to be carefully considered.  As well as colour we needed to carefully consider light. texture, acoustics, shape and space.  We wanted the environment to be engaging and interesting, but not over-stimulating or distracting.  We introduced undulating ceilings and curved walls to add a sense of openness and flow to the space.  We reinstated full-height sash windows and used internal glazed openings to maximise natural light throughout.  Wherever possible we used baffled or indirect lighting to reduce glare.  We tried to introduce textured finishes wherever possible to bring acoustic benefits as well as comfort.

An art company called Artmongers were also engaged to install bespoke artworks.  We formed a very good relationship with the artist and ended up with a coordinated and cohesive environment centred on the theme of ‘wind’.  The theme was a stroke of genius as it allowed us to engage with patients at opposite ends of the autism spectrum.  Reclusive or insecure patients could enjoy the artworks or installations from distance, whilst more inquisitive patients could have their curiosity satisfied by immersing themselves in the hidden details or educational facts behind some of the artworks. The final integrated scheme included artworks, interactive scientific installations, custom furniture, adaptive mood lighting and video installations.

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A lesson in history…

The existing building that the clinic is situated in is Grade II Listed, and used to be a ‘Nightingale’ Ward.   Hidden behind dry-lined walls some existing features from the old wards still remained.  These features included huge cast iron flues centred in the building, wall plaques inscribed with benefactors of the old hospital, and characteristic coloured wall tiles.  It was never going to be easy to integrate or reinstate some of these features, but we always try to reinstate historical features in vast institutional buildings such as hospitals if we can as it provides a welcome punctuation in repetitive modern environments.  It can also engage a patient or passer-by in the same way that an artwork or framed view can do.

The artist also appreciated the history behind the building, so installed some window artworks which gave a nod to the historical setting of the building.

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A clinical finish…

Whilst we made every effort to design an environment which invokes a positive response from patients and staff, we had to also ensure that patient safety, staff security and hospital hygiene were not compromised.  Although patients would normally be accompanied we had to ensure that they could always be easily supervised and that potential risks or dangers were eliminated.  Secure secondary glazing  and controlled access throughout helped ensure that staff could supervise and control disruptive or breakaway patients. Any loose objects could also pose a potential risk to patients and staff so most storage items were custom designed.  For example staff consulting desks were designed so that everything including monitors and peripherals could be easily stowed away.

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We also installed a bespoke designed GRP play pod and curved enclosure in the waiting area, which although playful in appearance was designed to allow children to feel safe, private and secure, whilst allowing parents to retain strict supervision.

If you’d like to read more information about this project please click here.