Community engagement has long been a hallmark of the design process—bringing in diverse voices to provide valuable input and feedback, and ultimately to shape the design of each new project so it reflects the communities it serves. In healthcare, that includes patients and families.
Oftentimes the family representatives who participate in design workshops and community events live near the project site, but it’s important to also consider geographic diversity, or the needs of users who must travel far from home to seek care.
Prior to the construction of Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, Saskatchewan was one of only two Canadian provinces without a dedicated pediatric hospital. Families had to either travel out of the province or to the existing Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, known for its aging facilities and shortage of beds. The new 176-bed children’s hospital now serves the entire province.
While half of the total population lives in Saskatoon, where the project is co-located with the Royal University Hospital campus, many indigenous groups inhabit the northern half of the province. Given that these remote communities must travel long distances to receive care and yet they make up a large segment of the hospital’s patient population, it was critical to solicit their input on the building’s design.
“People come a long way from their hometowns or villages to this facility, so it’s important to think about their lives while they’re here,” says Allyn Stellmacher, design partner. “Community input gave us a much broader perspective to inform design decisions and priorities. We heard directly from families what they need in a new facility.”
As one of the province’s first Lean projects, Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital achieved unprecedented community involvement that drove the building’s program and design. During the six Integrated Design Events facilitated by ZGF, user group discussions focused on the need for greater efficiency and departmental adjacencies. For example, the region’s high incidence of at-risk births led to the co-location of all maternal services on one floor. For the first time, mothers can labor, give birth and stay with their new baby and partner in the same private room until discharged.
ZGF also developed a comprehensive community engagement strategy focusing on children, teenagers and families across the entire province. The design team visited rural communities with significant native populations, almost as far north as the Arctic Circle. They visited schools, hospitals and community centers—which were sometimes combined into a single, multipurpose facility—and listened to nearly 2,000 residents through in-person design sessions, mail-in design activities and online surveys.
“The motto of Saskatchewan is ‘from many people’s strength,’ and in that context we spread far and wide to ensure our design is unified across the province,” Allyn says.
During design exercises with children, they shared what it was like to travel far away and what would make them feel more at home in the new children’s hospital. Parents expressed the importance of family space since oftentimes a trip to the hospital means staying overnight or longer. Each patient room is private and has sleeping space for a family member, and each floor has a variety of amenities to provide respite, positive distraction and a sense of normalcy. Spiritual reflection space is nondenominational and accommodates smudging ceremonies for indigenous people.
Early schematic designs provided family spaces at more intimate scales, but feedback from families indicated that the smaller spaces were almost claustrophobic compared to the wide-open landscape they were used to at home. Generous sized patient rooms, corridors, communal spaces, and connections to nature throughout the facility, now reflect the vast, rolling landscape that is referred to as the “Land of Living Skies” on Saskatchewan license plates.
Another key design feature is colorful environmental graphics that reflect the natural themes and shared experiences of the diverse cultures inhabiting Saskatchewan. Whimsical motifs incorporate native flora and fauna, immersing families in the comfort of the natural world.
Each floor features a different theme such as “Forest,” “Prairie” and “Lake Region,” advanced from a series of hand-drawn illustrations that were scanned and digitized to create a natural aesthetic. The design team consulted families on the various animal icons, considering that certain animals have different symbolism in their cultures. Kids chose the bright colors for each floor.
“Children’s voices could finally be heard, and those became anchor points for our design,” adds Allyn. “The new hospital creates an environment designed for children, by children—at their level, scale and view of the world.”
These are just a few examples of how community engagement influenced the design of Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital. While it’s not always feasible on every project, it’s up to us as designers to go the extra mile—both literally and figuratively—to include as many voices as possible in the design process to ensure our projects reflect the diverse communities they serve.