KKA Focuses on Family at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital

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Kate Keating Associates (San Francisco) brought nature and nurture to the forefront of their comprehensive, family-centered experiential graphic design work at the new Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

The new Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford is one of the nation’s most technologically advanced and sustainable hospitals. The new LEED Platinum-certified building, opened in December 2017 added 521,000 square feet, 149 beds, 3.5 acres of gardens to their existing footprint in Palo Alto, California. This massive undertaking required more than ten years to complete and is a testimony of LPCHS’s commitment to the healing experience of the entire patient family. This is evidenced throughout the design of the hospital, from new patient rooms that provide comfortable sleeping accommodations for family, to beautiful outdoor gardens and sculpture. This focus on family centered design extends to the comprehensive and engaging experiential graphic design program—inclusive of theming, wayfinding, placemaking, exhibits and donor recognition—which can be seen throughout the original and new hospital buildings.

“The positive and immersive, family-centered experience was the north star for the design of project” says Julie Vogel, president of Kate Keating Associates. “The vision was clear from the architect and owner and the team worked tirelessly toward that shared goal.” That clarity of and dedication to the mission created a basis for consensus and guided difficult decisions.

KKA was originally brought onto the project in 2009 by LPCHS to bring the building’s theme of “California eco regions” to life through the wayfinding signage program. The iconographic theming KKA designed for the signage was the catalyst that quickly grew the scope of their work to include much of the project’s custom architectural finishes, as well as donor recognition, and updating the existing building’s wayfinding and placemaking.

The California eco regions theme was the vision of Perkins+Will’s Architect, Robin Guenther, who identified and coordinated opportunities for implementation throughout the building from the outset. This theme was in concert with the architectural goals of the facility: To bring the outside in to aid the healing atmosphere. Each one of the six major California eco regions was dedicated to each floor of the hospital—from the rocky shore on the ground level up to the Sierra Nevada mountains on the fifth. The theme is expressed through out the design including: signage, educational exhibits, abstract super graphic landscapes, commissioned art, flooring inlays and colors—helping young patients and their families discover and remember their unit in a friendly, nonclinical way.

Vogel remarks it’s hard to overstate how much of the work their team did and what kind of impact that work has had. “I haven’t seen very many other environments—ever—where the experiential graphic designer had so much impact on the aesthetic of the entire project.” In fact, much of the architectural design team working on the new hospital had commented that it was once-in-a-lifetime endeavor.

The KKA design team’s three primary goals were: to develop a seamlessly-integrated and comprehensive wayfinding and placemaking program that effortlessly helps people find their way and brings the California nature-based themes to life; to create opportunities for patients and their families to be both educated and distracted from illness and the challenges of hospital life; and to design a timeless environment with moments of surprise and delight that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. The result is a wayfinding system that is immersive, fun and uses landmarks effectively—yet is all built on a bedrock of logic, hierarchy and sequence.

To ensure accurate representation of each theme, Alan Launer, a Stanford University ecologist, worked with the team to select numerous animal species relevant to each eco region, which were then narrowed down and selected by children at LPCHS to two “animal ambassadors” for each floor. Then the graphic language developed by KKA for the animal iconography communicates content with a dose of whimsy—without veering into the realms of trends or caricatures. The viewer enjoys the content without focusing on the style, and the authenticity of the iconography makes it suitable for all ages.

In the pre and post-surgical areas of the Rocky Shore level, where children travel in a gurney facing upward, a custom perforated metal ceiling treatment depicts an underwater scene with sea turtles, sea stars and sharks of the California coast swimming through a current. The density of animals increases near intersections of the corridors, providing a welcome distraction for patients in transit, and comprising 4,500 square feet of ceiling.

“Animal ambassadors” are expressed outside each patient bed unit—comprised of 24 hospital rooms—where a large exhibit identifies the unit and that explains the birth, early life, diet and other fun facts about the animal, as researched by the design team. The exhibits can be used as a distraction for siblings that need to be excused from sensitive conversations, or perhaps as a post-procedure destination that gets patients out of bed and walking.

In patient rooms—areas which were extensively prototyped and tested by care staff before the layout was finalized—the KKA team precisely designed changeable patient precaution signage that are used by families and employees — a quick way for caregivers to identify patient needs and limitations. Inside, the room there is a large custom glass (dry erase) panel that displays patient team info and goals for the day. KKA developed a series of interactive puzzles that are located at the bottom of the panels, like labyrinths and finding games based on and printed in the same palette as the eco regions. “We needed to design distractions for the siblings as well as the patients,” explains Vogel. “Having spent time in the operating hospital during our project initiation phase, we witnessed the challenges of the families and that experience… made us feel more connected to the family centered design vision.” 

The LPCHS leadership understands that their employees will be key to bringing the theming and wayfinding program to life. In preparation for opening, they created a 20-minute online learning module to train all employees on how the wayfinding program works, but most importantly, how to speak about it to families and visitors to ensure a system-wide shared language is used. For example, there is a nearly life-sized sea lion sculpture on top of the canopy entry into the Treatment Center and front-desk receptionists have been instructed to direct patient families across the huge lobby to the “door under the sea lion.” This level of commitment to making hospital wayfinding a success is something Vogel has only seen once before, and it was at the Stanford adult hospital.

The KKA team is currently working on developing additional (previously shelled) spaces in the new hospital and backfill projects in the original building, but at the new building’s opening, they have logged nine years, more than 16,000 EGD staff hours and 250 meetings. They developed 5,000 interior signs, 650 linear feet of custom-printed Designtex PVC-free wall covering; 1,100-linear-feet of custom graphic glass paneling and more. (In short, the sheer volume of work cannot be addressed in a single article in any depth.)

The unique expression of a Californian experience and the family-centered thoughtfulness of the client and design teams permeates the entirety of LPCHS, and the success of the program is evident through the positive reactions from patient families and staff. This comment from a patient’s mother truly captures the essence of the work: “My son was not scared because the hospital looked fun and inviting. There are displays and art everywhere, which is a great distraction from pain and fear.”


Project Name: Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford
Client: Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital
Location: Palo Alto, Calif.
Open Date: December 2017
Project Area: 521,000 sq ft
Experiential Graphic Design: Kate Keating Associates, Inc.
Architects: Perkins+Will (Robin Guenther, design architect), HGA (medical planning and architect of record)
Fabricators: DPR Construction (general contractor), Thomas Swan Sign Company (interior signage and donor recognition), Martinelli Environmental Graphics (exterior and garden signage), Forms+Surfaces (custom graphic glazing), Designtex (custom wallcovering), BBI Engineering (donor walls)
Collaborators: AECOM (landscape architecture), Degenkolb Engineers (structural engineering)
Photography: Emily Hagopian; Kate Keating Associates Inc./Nikki San Miguel and Alan Kriegel


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