There is no doubt that hospitals are often scary environments for children. In light of this scenario, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, due to open in December 2016, has made being child and family friendly one of its core principles.
The public-private funded hospital, which was one of Nelson Mandela’s last and lasting wishes for the children of Africa, will offer state-of-the-art specialist paediatric care to children in Sub-Saharan Africa, irrespective of socio-economic status. But that is not the only area where it stands out: in addition, all of the elements of the hospital, from equipment to furniture, signage and accommodation, is conceived to be child and family friendly.
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The problem, typically, is that from the moment a child enters a hospital, nothing speaks to them – it is all directed at adults. Another issue is the fact that most hospitals don’t cater for the parents and siblings of patients – although the presence of family is essential for happiness, comfort and healing.
“The challenge is to create information that is child-friendly, that children can consume alone. This applies to all aspects of the hospital, from the artwork, to way finding and signage, to the internal finishes.”
The NMCH Trust has worked with leading children’s hospitals around the world to establish how to be child-friendly. The team sought to convey the authentic voice of children in the design, rather than merely giving them something created for children by adults.
“It’s not an adult hospital that will look after children, but a child-centric hospital,” said Graham Maritz, the General Manager of GE Healthcare Southern Africa, one of the key private-sector funders of the project in partnership with Standard Bank. “One of the curve balls we faced was that our equipment could not be white as this is scary for children. It had to be customised. Even the handles on the doors are not at a height that makes me comfortable.”
The hospital’s furniture and facilities are all child sized. Wards are small, with just two beds per ward, and each bed is accompanied by a recliner for parents. In addition, each ward contains a play space and a family lounge.
To make sure that it speaks the language of children, the hospital’s design team has involved children from various backgrounds in the creation process, holding workshops facilitated by artists and storytellers. The resulting artworks, artifacts and stories have been woven into wall design, tapestries, mobiles, and paintings. Even the clay artifacts made by children will be transformed, in collaboration with PPC, into benches in the hospital’s many gardens.
Being child centric doesn’t just apply to content. Bright colours, languages and shapes are also directed at creating an environment of calm. So too are the hospital’s many landscaped courtyards, which break up the building and allow natural light to flood in.
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