The new Royal Children’s Hospital: A nature-inspired design
The design of Melbourne’s $AUD1 billion Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) is based on ‘state of the art’ ideas developed by the hospital around a family-centred care model that puts children and their parents at the centre of the tertiary level paediatric care facility. Using innovative and evidence-based design principles, the RCH reflects changing healthcare practices, workplace patterns, user expectations, community aspirations and environmental responsibility.
The building’s formal arrangement, as well the internal and external spatial experiences, has been assembled to promote a restorative and healing environment for children and their families.
The resulting architectonic language has been directly informed by the Royal Park setting, a park with a character much like a typical slice of Victorian bushland. Special attention was paid to the natural textures, forms and colours of the park and how this could directly inform the material expression of the building. A detailed study resulted which indicates how the built environment infused with the experience of nature can speak to children and help provide a therapeutic hopeful backdrop for those visiting the hospital. Considered detailing invites the human touch, acknowledges the child in a respectful way, provides a robust and safe environment yet de-institutionalises the hospital genre.
The building has been split into campus masterplan with a central street joining major new public gardens to the north and southwest. The north orientation breaks away from the city grid and turns instead to the park enabling the collection of buildings light-filled landscaped gardens around their full perimeter, avoiding a ‘front and back’ portrayal and enhancing the connection between child and park. The use of narrow footprints for the clinical buildings provides for abundant natural light to enter all corners of the Hospital. The natural slope of the site meant the new facilities could link to the park at three different levels intertwining the Hospital with its park setting.
The Inpatient Building is designed in a star shape, connecting the rooms to the park. More than 80 per cent of the rooms have park views, others look into courtyards. Specially designed glass sunshades on the Hospital’s exterior allow activity in the grounds below to be viewed from the patient’s bed.
Bedroom spaces, 85% that are single occupancy, have been designed to be calm and comforting, befitting a place of recovery and respite. Medical procedures are conducted away from the bedroom whenever possible, leaving the bedroom to be a haven for rest and family time. Desk surface for schoolwork, sofa beds for family stays and opportunities for personalisation are provided to encourage a normalisation of the hospital stay.
A significant feature of the building is the sweep of coloured ‘leaf’ blades along Flemington Road. Fabricated in curved panels, they provide protection from the sun whilst creating a shimmering organic structure and identity for the RCH.
At the heart of the new facility is the six storey atrium and Main Street which links the elements of the Hospital together through a naturally lit public thoroughfare with expansive views of the parkland beyond. A truly civic space, the Main Street features a two-storey coral reef aquarium, large-scale artworks, a meerkat enclosure and a range of places to eat and meet with family, colleagues or friends. Partnerships with the zoo, science museum and cinemas have resulted in popular activities for children and families which distract and engage the imagination of all age groups.
Recognising the health of our environment and the health of people are inextricably linked, the new hospital campus delivers a holistic approach to sustainability – environmental, emotional, physical and psychological.
The integrated design solution separates support from clinical areas enabling shut down of areas not required to run 24 hours per day; provides views to parkland wherever possible; optimises natural daylight; and significantly reduces the carbon footprint through a combination of tri-generation, bio-mass heating, solar thermal panels and water conservation including blackwater treatment and rainwater recovery among other initiatives. Energy efficiency measures mean the hospital produces 45 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions compared to a conventional hospital and water saving measures achieve at least a 20% reduction in water use.
The co-location on campus of clinical, research and education elements is an important feature of the design.
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