A few weeks ago, my colleague, Mike Rodriguez, and I had the privilege of accepting the Healthcare Design Award for the Children’s Minnesota NICU project. As a former NICU mom, this project and award will always have a special place in my heart.
When it was built, the 50-bed unit was ahead of its time; few NICUs in the 1990s had exclusively private rooms. Since then, however, the rooms haven’t been refreshed, making it difficult to provide an up-to-date patient and staff experience. Traveling between Level II and Level III NICU units became inconvenient for staff; accessibility to the adjacent Mother Baby Center was difficult; and outdated finishes were both difficult to maintain and projected an uninviting atmosphere.
The client approached us seeking a solution for its space issues and a sophisticated new environment that would complement world-class healthcare and cater to patients/adult visitors, but still feel like a whimsical nursery. And all on a shoestring budget (just $140 per square foot!)
Multiple design charrettes and visioning sessions inspired the design concept: Strength, growth and hope. These tenets resonated with the care provided at this facility and come to life in the form of an "enchanted forest." In the lobby, visitors encounter a custom tree form symbolizing the concepts within the embrace of nature. We worked with an artist to develop custom imagery, playful creatures (a fish, bird, bunny and ladybug) and a wayfinding element to identify different pods of rooms within the unit. Custom lighting elements provide additional indirect lighting to reinforce the sense of a tree canopy. Inside the patient rooms, a redesigned footwall has improved staff workflow and has expanded family storage.
The design team also created a new entry sequence and improved flow for additional family space (a kitchenette, computer space, shower, restroom and lounge), as well as an enclosed private educational space. A combined registration and HUC desk has improved efficiency for staff and visibility to the entrance and family waiting space.
We were proud to accept this award on behalf of the entire project team, including our talented artist Iveta Vaicule and our partners at Children’s Minnesota. This project was chosen as both the jury and public favorite– an honor that (I am told) has never happened before. Look for an article featured in the December issue of Healthcare Design Magazine.