Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA Welcome Wall

Warm Welcome

An interactive media wall tells the stories of Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA’s patients, staff, and families.

Passing through the doors of the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA can be a scary experience for the young patients and their families who face surgery or treatment inside.

The entrance to the new I.M. Pei-designed building is dramatic but stark, and potentially intimidating. That’s not the first impression the hospital wants to make, so it set out to create a warm welcome and a place to tell the stories behind its mission, its patients, and the doctors, nurses, researchers, and other staff who work there.

A static welcome wall or a single piece of artwork wouldn’t do the trick, says Sarah Robbins, senior project manager for hospital capital programs. “We wanted something flexible. We knew we had a lot of great stories to tell, and we wanted to be able to change them often and be playful with it. And we wanted a high-tech solution, just like the medicine we practice here.”

They asked Hunt Design (Pasadena) to bring the hospital’s stories to life on a 48- by 12-ft. wall inside the lobby.

High-tech solution

The Hunt team knew the welcome wall would also be a billboard and an identity statement for the hospital, says Jennifer Bressler, project manager and lead designer. So in addition to the many individual stories it would tell, it needed to communicate the hospital’s world leadership in children’s medicine and research.

And it needed to provide a kind of soft entertainment value, says Bressler. “We’ve worked on entertainment projects and we work on exhibits and we work on hospitals, but this was a hybrid of those three. It was really about creating a welcome wall with a little fun in a place that’s not really about fun.”

The Hunt team partnered with Electrosonic Inc. to help match the storytelling aspect with the technology side. Electrosonic also produced and installed all of the media and commissioned and programmed the hardware systems needed to make the wall work.

But the first project challenge was decidedly low-tech. While the original architectural drawings indicated a 50-ft. curved wall inside the lobby, it was intended for a static art piece, not a dynamic wall that would require sophisticated hardware and the accompanying power and data feeds. Much worse, there were two giant structural columns in the space, one in a spot that would significantly obstruct views.

It’s the kind of situation that designers are often asked to work around, and in this case, the Hunt/Electrosonic rose to the challenge. “We asked if they could make that column glass, and we hid three cameras inside it,” explains Bressler. “Unbelievably, they agreed.”

When visitors look through peepholes on the column, the cameras take pictures of their faces, which then appear on special rear-projection displays on the wall. Through this portal, visitors literally become part of the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA story.

Anatomy of a welcome wall

The final media solutions were driven by several factors, including the need to optimize projection geometries within the space, budget considerations, and the desire to keep the lobby as clean and uncluttered as the architect had intended.

Working closely with the client, Bressler fleshed out graphic and storytelling concepts and consulted with Electrosonic about integrating available technologies. “As these types of projects become more widespread in architectural applications, we’ve found there’s a real need to work with the client and the design team early on to advise them about what’s possible within the physical and budget constraints,” says Benj Lein, Electrosonic consultant.

Hunt’s solution divided the wall into two major elements: the hospital’s story and the patients’ stories. The hospital’s mission, goals, and legacy are brought to life on two 50-in. high-definition Panasonic plasma screens, one in portrait and one in landscape mode. Synchronized on these two screens, video interviews with doctors, nurses, administrators, and other staff loop continuously to tell visitors about the hospital’s multicultural faculty and its world-class standing in research and medicine. Beside them, three lenticular displays, each roughly 2- by 4-ft., add a low-tech but kinetic element, featuring upbeat images of patients and staff.

The left side of the wall tells more personal stories: testimonials from patients, their families, and others that communicate the human side of the hospital’s mission. Three 15-in. circular reverse-projection displays carry a rotating montage of images, including those of visitors looking through the column portal. (Because the column is only about 6 ft. from the wall, Electrosonic specified NEC near-field projectors, which can be placed extremely close to the projection surface, says Lein.)  To supplement the hospital’s video library, amateur videographers can also submit their work to show on the round screens.

Additional movement is created by two ceiling-mounted monitors that project fluttering butterfly graphics and kid’s drawings and letters onto the wall and floor. 

Living content

Because content is so key to the success of the wall, a living, manageable content development plan was critical. “Media and high-tech equipment are wonderful, but they also come with challenges,” says Bressler. “Equipment has a lifespan and needs to be replaced on occasion, and you need a plan in place to keep both the equipment and the media content fresh.”

Don Ponturo, the hospital’s director of communications, agrees. It’s his department’s job to record and generate new stories for the wall, and that will be done in conjunction with web site development and public relations. “It’s going to be a challenge moving forward,” he admits. “But we have events happening here all the time, and new stories to tell.”

As predicted, the wall has also become a focal point for the hospital. Press conferences are often held in front of it, and it has become a source of delight and comfort to patients and visitors alike. Ponturo won’t share the cost of the media wall, but says the hospital considers it part of patient care. “If we can lessen the anxiety our patients and their families may be feeling when they arrive, it really becomes part of the critical care we’re providing from the moment they step in the door.”

--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 22, 2008



Location:  Los Angeles

Client:  Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA

Architecture:  Pei Partnership (design architect), Perkins+Will (executive architect)

Design:  Hunt Design

Design Team:  Jennifer Bressler (project director/design lead), Steve Hernandez (technical design and detailed drawings)

Project Manager:  Mice Creative

Interactive Media Consultant:  Electrosonic Inc.

Fabrication:  Crush Creative (digital graphics), LA Propoint (hardware fabrication), Sign Source (letter fabrication), Pulp Studios (custom glass), Risto Salo Design & Engineering (engineering), NEC Displays (near-field projectors), Panasonic (plasma displays), Caltron Industries (LCD panels), High End Systems (digital projectors)

Photos:  Jim Simmons



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