Within Europe’s newest hospital, The Royal London, located on the seventh floor, there are now two new stunning spaces – these include an outdoor Sky Garden and an indoor Alice in Wonderland -style play area. These areas provide imaginative healing and play spaces for young patients which is substantially different from the usual hospital ward in feel and atmosphere.
The Activity Space, formally known as the Ann Riches Healing Space, was designed by award-winning Cottrell and Vermeulen Architecture and designer Morag Myerscough, who worked together with Paragon Creative to create a uniquely vibrant, giant’s oversized living room, filled with Alice in Wonderland-scale objects. Entered from the ward's corridor of grey lino and suspended polystyrene ceilings, the airy double-height space, filled with these lurid jumbo props, is a shock to the system. Designed as a huge domestic space, the room is edged with a giant skirting board and lined with bold graphic wallpaper, while the individual objects are based on everyday items – an Ikea rug has been pixelated to form a stage beneath the TV screen, and big stripey wooden tops provide fun seating along the edge.
Paragon Creative Ltd was originally commissioned by Skanska to detail design and build a series of props and setworks which occupy both spaces; this included the full installation of all exhibits within the internal spaces.
The exhibits included a gigantic chair and television set which dominate the play area. Both exhibits are nearly two storeys high and the television screen presents a giant interactive AV which is entitled Wiggle Wood; which was developed by Chris O’Shea and Nexus Interactive Arts. This indoor area plays on a theme of domesticity - the home that children are waiting to return to – to make the ordinary extraordinary, while the roof garden hints at a magical forest with textures, lights, organic, undulating forms and playful versions of traditional external types of shelter that frame dramatic views of the surrounding building and skyline.
"We wanted it to be a complete escape for the children," says architect Richard Cottrell. "Something so unexpected and all-consuming that it might distract them from thinking about being in hospital."
"We wanted everything to be familiar to the kids, rather than it being about 'design'," says Cottrell – as so many overly designed play spaces tend to be. Another key concern was to keep the children active, this room providing a place to unleash pent-up energy away from the ward.”
"We didn't just want them to be slumped in front of an Xbox," says Anne Mullins, director of Vital Arts, the charitable arts organisation of Barts Health NHS Trust, which has steered the project. "It's about keeping them moving and exploring."
Our client: Royal London Hospital
Designed by: Cottrell and Vermeulen Architecture and designer Morag Myerscough