Brimming with opinions and design ideas, the doctors and nurses from the Pediatric Intensive Care Team met with the architect, interior designers, and project manager about the interior redesign of their unit. One voice stood alone above the others and changed the course of the entire design journey. That voice belonged to a PICU patient’s father, who represented the Rush University Medical Center’s Family Advisory Council and had spent many worried days and nights at the unit tending to his child.
This father challenged the popular opinion that the ceilings and walls should be the focal point for patients on this unit. Instead, he asserted that his chronically ill child, when feeling really sick, looked down, not up. He asserted that the floor is where the design process should start, because that is where other patients look in their times of need.
The flooring immediately became the center of the unit’s selected theme: Seasons in Chicago.
Divided into the unit’s four quadrants, images of spring, summer, autumn and winter specific to Chicago playfully danced along an undulating river. From Spring’s budding trees and dragonflies to Summer’s beach balls and footprints in the sand, the flooring motif led to Autumn’s falling leaves and footballs, and finally arrived at Winter’s frozen puddles, snowmen, and hockey sticks.
The floor became a tool for healing for all ages. Soothing colors and gently flowing shapes encouraged very young children to find peaceful distraction, while still creating “find the flying kite” or “seek the sun” walking games for school-aged children who realized that they had recuperated enough to walk again.
As the center of a multi-layered visual program, the flooring imagery interconnects the various images of Chicago’s seasons on the walls, at light sconces, on patient boards, and even at room signage stations throughout the Unit.
The highly successful flooring design has been credited for bringing a cheerful, healing environment with many layers of visual interest for all ages (one-time patients or frequent flyers, the medical/nursing staff, and the patients’ families). This happy consequence highlights how looking down can truly start the healing process towards lifting a patient’s spirits, one fallen leaf at a time.