For more than 40 years, the Women’s Auxiliary Volunteers (WAV) have operated the PlayPark at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Canada as a place of respite and play for the siblings of young patients who are at the hospital for treatment. Over these years, the volunteer-run space has become outdated. In need of a refreshing update, Canada-based design and consulting firm Stantec aimed to create the newly designed PlayPark as a place of exploration and discovery for children amidst the harsh realities that hospital settings contain.
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Design with Empathy
Two members of Stantec’s PlayPark design team included Laurena Clark and Olivera Sipka - the two wrote about their approach for designing the space, including the need to make it more functional, accessible and safe.
“As designers, we always empathize with, and put ourselves in the position of, the people who will use the spaces we design,” writes Clark in the blog post. “But with this project, we realized we needed to get to an even deeper level of emotion.”
Clark goes on to highlight an example of how a young man in his 20s wrote about how when he was young and his brother began a stay at SickKids, he felt very lost at the time. His parents were taking care of his brother and he rarely got to see his friends - but he had the PlayPark.
“He wrote about what a joy it was to visit the PlayPark at such a gloomy time in his life,” says Clark. “So, redesigning a space that makes such an impact on the lives of young people is a tremendous responsibility.”
With accessibility, safety and security in mind, Stantec’s designers injected a feeling of whimsy in the PlayPark’s new space and created opportunities for exploration, relaxation and engagement for a wide age range of children.
“As soon as you walk into PlayPark, you’re intrigued to explore” Clark states. “We also had to include so much more depth in the design and the activities available because many kids come to the PlayPark for extended periods of time—days, months, even years.”
Sipka adds that the Stantec team designed every corner to offer something unexpected. “We turned storage cabinets into magnetic boards, so kids can play with magnetic images,” she explains. “And we added another storage cabinet where we designed translucent panels that overlap. When you slide them over one another, they produce different colors. You can explore what happens when green overlaps with yellow, for example. We turned every surface into an experience.”
Inspired by Nature
The new design also features zones inspired by nature – including a forest, a lake, a canyon and hills – to bring a park setting to children who are indoors for long periods of time. “When designing for kids, we often tend to look at new technologies, such as interactive screens,” says Sipka. “But with this project, the focus was on play.”
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The PlayPark’s zones inspired by nature include the following areas:
- Forest landscape in the central space, featuring trees made of thick resin panels that create a “leafy” canopy
- Quite “cave nook” with fiber-optic twinkling lights in the ceiling, to give the sense of sitting beneath the stars
- Meadow-themed art studio with a large LED panel of tall grasses and overhead lights meant to look like fluffy clouds
- Performance space with curves to suggest hills, complete with a seating nook and original illustrations
Clark and Sipka note that the design team also factored in what kinds of materials they would use during the process. “We designed PlayPark to hospital standards, in terms of infection control,” says Clark. “We used all the same materials that other healthcare spaces use—like rubber floors and solid surfaces—and we considered cleaning, like you would in any other area of the hospital. Everything was wipeable. You can utilize those materials in a way that creates an environment that doesn’t look institutional.”
The team’s creative efforts and imagination paid off as Stantec recently captured a prestigious Award of Merit from the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) for the WAV PlayPark. Stantec’s design team accepted the award at the ARIDO Awards Gala, held in Toronto on October 24.
Heading to the Interior Design Show in Toronto in January 2019? Laurena Clark will be giving a presentation where she’ll be discussing her design approach to the PlayPark.
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