ARCH Design’s goal was to complement the views of Forest Park and the bold super graphics already included in the design of the space with art that related to the hospital’s surrounding community and its rich cultural offerings. However, adhering to the stringent fire code was the highest priority, so the ARCH team researched materials and designed custom pieces that both exceeded safety standards and upheld this conceptual framework.
The expansion of St. Louis Children’s Hospital (SLCH) increases the number of private patient beds and space for outpatient services. As part of the hospital’s long-term Campus Renewal Project, this building features expansive views of the adjacent Forest Park, hospitality-inspired architecture, and interior design with light-filled, private inpatient rooms overlooking the park and the bustling neighborhood of the Central West End. Following an evidence-based design (EBD) process and with nature as living artwork, ARCH Design, Artwork and Framing expanded upon the concepts of nature-based, local art to create an uplifting, enriching, and engaging environment.
ARCH Design’s challenge was to incorporate artwork that reflected the rich cultural offerings of Forest Park and would not compete or contrast with the existing bold interior design scheme. This design features saturated color, lively patterns, and a custom series of super graphics that depicts children playing in Forest Park. The illustrated graphics set the themes for each floor, which revolve around popular park destinations like the boathouse, the playhouse, and the zoo. A further challenge: the SLCH design team requested artwork that related to the tactile, craft-based pieces in the existing building. And the research reviewed made a strong case for naturebased photography in children’s hospitals. Finally, the safety standards for the hospital did not allow for conventional prints on paper in wood frames, so new materials had to be researched, sourced, and tested.
The ARCH Design team's research about art in children’s hospitals strongly suggested that children prefer calming nature photography. However, to address the theme of local culture, ARCH alternated nature-based photography with delightful feature pieces that are inventive both in terms of materials as well as process. This artistic innovation parallels the scientific innovation taking place at this major research hospital.
For the boathouse-themed floor, ARCH commissioned a custom crayon mosaic of a koi fish pond. Using crayons to make a picture may be a familiar experience to many children, and when artist Herb Williams recreated this nature scene out of actual crayons he imbued it with the magic of childhood. Within the framework of EBD, the emphasis on local nature often includes the work of local artists, an idea that ARCH interpreted for the zoo-themed floor. ARCH commissioned custom paintings of zoo animals, which are shown next to a video of the local artists at work. Warm, wood-look metal frames and white, fire-retardant backing helped create a consistent, contemporary look throughout while adhering to the fire code. Finally, a series of custom collages unified the distinct visual elements: graphics, illustration, and photography.
Since the client requested educational and interactive art, the ARCH Design team also conducted broader research about how to help engage children with art and the socio-emotional benefits of doing so. Sources on researchbacked methods in the field of museum education, such as Philip Yenawine’s Visual Thinking Strategies (2013), and the National Endowment for the Arts’ literature review, “The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation” (Menzer 2015), were consulted. To underscore the artists’ connections to St. Louis and make their work accessible, the ARCH team created museum gallery-style signage to accompany the art. Following practices in museum education, the text was not merely descriptive, but also included open-ended questions to prompt conversations between patients and their caregivers. This kind of interactive engagement with art has been shown to further language development and enhance socio-emotional skills.
While St. Louis Children’s Hospital is currently conducting research on the efficacy of ARCH Design’s approach to the art in the new expansion, the design team reports that patients and staff have remarked on the artwork more than any other design element, with the feedback overwhelmingly positive. ARCH Design will utilize these research findings to create a suite of custom artwork for an adjacent building once renovation is complete.