Sheffield Children’s Hospital

Sheffield Children's Hospital

February 2016

Creative interiors | Ambient Wayfinding

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Sheffield Children’s Hospital has recently opened new state-of-the-art paediatric wards after a three year, £40m redevelopment project. Thomas.Matthews were commissioned by Artfelt: an arts programme funded by The Children’s Hospital Charity, to create interior artworks to both comfort, and provide distraction for young patients during anxious moments before surgery.

Inspired by the Chinese tangram, Thomas.Matthews’ developed a concept building scenes with tessellating shapes that break away to reveal animals, plants and buildings for children to spot as they move through the hospital spaces. These colourful geometric artworks now line the theatres, corridors and treatment rooms and successfully respond to Artfelt’s brief to brighten hospital walls, creating spaces designed with children in mind, to aid recovery.

The installations also dance along the ceiling of a double height corridor, in the form of a kinetic mobile, leading to a life-saving £2.3m 3T MRI scanner, funded by the charity. The mobile was designed to make the most of the natural light of the space: the coloured, transparent shapes create patterns of rockets that spiral in and out of sight as patients pass below. The work culminates with a focal light box in the ceiling of each new anaesthetic room, to be used by staff to encourage children over the daunting threshold.

As research the design team interviewed escorts who take children down from the wards to theatre, as well as exploring the importance of graphics as a tool for distraction. The artworks provide a game that can be played by children, with their escorts, on the way to their operation, by spotting the animals and patterns hidden in the environment. The unique installations connect different spaces to create a visual experience that doubles as ambient wayfinding. Working in the hospital context also presented practical design considerations, such as creating a durable solution that would work with regular deep cleaning.

Artfelt director Cat Powell, said: “Our focus was to commission something that would not only complement the state-of-the-art new theatres suites, but would flow consistently between the old and new parts of the department. Patients range from aged 0 to 16 years, so it was important any scheme acted on multiple levels. It needed to be an aesthetically pleasing and uplifting piece, providing tools for improvisation and dialogue, but without being patronising to older patients.”


Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity Art Programme: Artfelt

Photography: India Hobson