Design Better Extended: CRL Interior Designs proposes to revive the wonder at PCMC

January 15, 2018



Carmen Lim-Regala

Inaugurated in 1980 in the presence of diplomats and royalty, the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) was dubbed “Lungsod ng Kabataan” or Children’s City, and alternatively, “A Wonderland for Children.” The government institution was to provide excellent healthcare for children and subsidies for families who could not afford such services on their own. For some 20 years, children of different social strata shared the Lungsod ng Kabataan’s mural-covered lobbies and waiting areas.

Due to lack of funding and maintenance, what once was a beautiful government hospital is now dilapidated and its facilities outdated. The murals in the lobbies have faded, portions of which have been crudely painted over in past repainting attempts by volunteers. Decorations such as animal-themed wall treatments are peeling off in the dark hallways. To add to the matter, there is no unified design as donor-funded renovations were done in patchwork.

CRL Interior Designs PCMC new burn unit
According to the hospital director, the existing Nurses’ office will be relocated to the 3rd floor and the area will converted to a BURN unit. Still consistent to the proposed design direction, the hallway will have a ceiling with painted white pipes. Colors and crayon cutouts differentiate the sliding doors of each room. Handrails are installed to assist those in recovery walk through the corridor.
New BURN unit floor plan

CRL Interior Designs proposes to redesign the Lungsod ng Kabataan interiors so it can live up to its epithet, “A Wonderland for Children.” Although the Department of Health released guidelines for the planning and design of hospitals in November 2004, there are no prescriptions for children’s facilities. Through Children’s Eyes, a 2008 study published in healthcare design journal World Health Design, identifies factors that improve pediatric environments. These include nurturing children’s positive frames of mind by minimizing difficulty and boredom, and allowing them to be engaged in the experience of hospitalization.

Our approach is to balance the cleanliness of the hospital with vibrancy and playfulness. Bright tiles and antimicrobial coated vinyl are predominant on floors and walls so that dirt can be easily spotted and cleaned. The current hospital decoration of children’s toys, large lettering, and animals informed our concept of rainbow-colored details that spark wonder, unify the hospital spaces, and double as wayfinding devices.

PCMC lobby current
The low coffered ceiling will be removed and raised so better lighting can be installed, including colorful coves highlighting the reception. Columns will be painted in different colors against the white walls and flooring. PCMC staff uses the main courtyard for community activities and weekly congregation so it is an active space in the hospital.
Our theme continues in this area with posts wrapped with vibrant abaca ropes, all the way up to the 2nd floor. The existing benches also receive their own splatter of colors. This makes the space an attractive play area for children who are waiting in the lobby. New landscaping is also installed to frame the stage. The sole wall at the back is covered with topiary that serves as a background for the stage and the entire courtyard. Studies show that access to the outdoors, contrasts to indoor hospital areas, support patients’ physical and emotional restoration.

Main lobby

The PCMC is known for its wall murals. Jovial images of children at play and in traditional garb are characteristic of the hospital arrival area. However, if the state of the hospital entrance sets the tone for the experience ahead, the current lobby with its shabby walls and lack of seating will already incite some anxiety.

“The murals must be retained,” requested Lungsod ng Kabataan deputy director Dr. Vince Gomez, who says the paintings are significant because artists who have since become respected maestros did them. Since the murals have lost their integrity, we propose cleaning and keeping them out of harm’s way until expert art restorers can work on them.

A double wall cladding will contain niches for announcement posters and LED screens. New seating will make the reception area comfortable as patients wait for their appointments or transport. The reception table will be transferred to the center of the room so checking in can be done in the lobby instead of by the driveway.

The double-wall cladding in the PCMC lobby is made of Plyboo, bamboo plywood. Colorful niches are ready for LED screens and posters but work decoratively on their own. So that the murals are never truly lost in the entrance experience, these will be documented for a video loop to be showcased on the LED screens in the lobby and across the hospital. Here the wall is seen with a panel exposing the mural behind it. Signage in bright colors is apparent against the concrete wall, making navigation easier.
New lobby plan
This charity ward is newly renovated but plain white walls made it look like the typical hospital ward. We did not want it to be less engaging than the private and semi-private rooms just because these housed charity cases. Colorful panels with fruit cutouts serve as the backdrop of every patient’s bed. Individual lighting is installed per panel so there’s the option to turn on the lights in respective areas if needed. These modules also contain a small desk with a pull-out chair for the patient’s companions.

Rooms and wards

We will imbue hospital accommodations with a sense of place through colorful cutout silhouettes and distinct themes per room. Familiar objects such as shapes and fruits will compose room details. Recognition of concepts and bold colors make the spaces less threatening to children. On top of being fun, the varied themes will enable patients to easily remember and have a sense of ownership of their rooms. Even charity wards, which are currently austere and uniform, are given individuality through themed bedframes. Cutouts made of Plyboo, a durable and waterproof plywood made of bamboo, add texture to the room interiors but can also serve as positive distractions when the patient is experiencing pain.

The shared semi-private room also gets its share of color. The partitions in what used to be a mint green room are individualized through different pastel colors and geometric shapes. The cartoon character curtains are replaced with accordion doors for easy maintenance and cleanliness.
New semi-private room floor plan
The private rooms are newly renovated. The staff shared that there was a hospital-wide contest to come up with themes and renovate the private rooms. The room in the photograph is the winning theme. The rooms are lively given the recent refresh, but fantastic images are inappropriate for some cases. A recent chat with a friend, whose terminally-ill nephew was confined, revealed such rooms were okay for patients recuperating from mild sickness, but otherworldly murals like forests or underwater scenes may have illusory effects on children with more severe cases.
We gave our rooms themes, but these are not reliant on murals. In the private rooms, Plyboo headboards are painted with patterns, with each room assigned a color palette. This backdrop for the bed accommodated lights and medical equipment. Roll up vinyl are used instead of curtains. The small living space near the bed is furnished with a sofabed for the patient’s companion.
New private room floor plan

Hallway wayfinding

The Lungsod ng Kabataan is almost four decades old and, with minimal upgrades, its lighting design is outdated. Big windows oriented towards the courtyards bring natural light into hallways, rooms, and offices in the daytime. But at night, the 4-meter-high hallways are dark. Being the main circulation paths for patient rooms, these paths need clarity. The hospital’s current hallways are decorated with large letters corresponding with animals. We decided to improve this idea.

The mismatched cartoony illustrations on the hallway walls are made minimal and painted in solid colors. More than just pretty images, the sequence of decorations help establish the chronology of rooms. Besides being given more legible signage, doors are painted in distinct colors. Colored lines, corresponding and leading to each door, trace the hallway floor. There are multiple ways to find a room, but special attention is given to making it engaging for children, empowering them to be active agents in their hospital experience.

The Philippine Children’s Medical Center’s current interiors attempt to connect with children through concepts they are familiar with such as picture-book-like cutouts on hallway walls. The existing interiors lay the groundwork for our improvements which involves streamlining the decoration to assist wayfinding and unifying these elements across the whole hospital.
New hallway section
Better lighting help patients easily spot their rooms. The hallway ceiling is kept open for easy maintenance of electrical, plumbing, and ducting elements. Matte black paint in between white PVC trellis conceals rough surfaces of the utilities. Replacing all standard bulbs with LED bulbs will keep the hospital’s energy consumption in check.

Non-medical spaces

The current chapel is a 60-square-meter enclosed area on the second floor of the hospital. With no windows to the outdoors, the current area is totally reliant on artificial light and furnished with old pews. We propose to transform the aged and stuffy chapel into a meaningful space for prayer. In line with our direction for the rest of the hospital, we reduced surface colors to white and installed better lighting. A colorful ceiling evokes the sense of hope from above.

The current cafeteria has a mezzanine on one side and standard food service set-up on the other. We propose to give the space more character and make it more interesting for hospital visitors and staff by refreshing the interiors with colorful and interactive elements.

The solemnity of chapel where one can meditate is reflected with all-white walls, streamlined pews, and tiled flooring. Textured white walls at the back of the altar together with the accent lighting give a feeling of peace and solace. Colors are present only through the dropped ceiling panels in with lighting in between. What was once dark and intimidating chapel is now welcoming.
The cafeteria is given an industrial impression with mechanical shapes that serve as menu boards, metal droplights, and an “exposed” electrical layout in painted metal pipes. Treads and risers of stairs are in rainbow colors. Red orange industrial seats are used with white tables. A slide is playful option for kids to go down.

Bringing back wonderland

PCMC is a familiar place because my son’s pediatrician is based here. The rooms are spacious, so are the nurse stations and hallways. Three buildings with courtyards allow ample circulation and open-air areas unlike other hospitals where clients have to navigate snaking corridors. One can sense that it was one of the most efficient children’s hospitals in Asia, if not the most efficient, during its prime years. My husband, who was a regular patient as a child, told our team: “You should have seen this before!”

During our visit, Dr. Gomez discussed the upcoming expansion plans on the third level of the existing building. This means offices will move up and create space on the second floor for additional facilities. The Lungsod ng Kabataan was built to house premier children’s’ healthcare services. By creating a relatable hospital environment, we envision young Filipinos, rich and poor, feeling welcomed and empowered in PCMC.

One of the remarkable structures in PCMC is the spiral staircase. To keep up with the overall redesign, the white walls receive a dash or round dots, the staircase treads finished with colorful industrial rubberized paint making them look like flower petals from above. Tempered curved glass replaces the existing red acrylic balustrade panels.

This proposal for the Philippine Children’s Medical Center by CRL Interior Designs is an extension of BluPrint’s latest book venture called Design Better: 21 Proposals by 100 Designers to Provoke Discussion and Debate. The book is available in National Bookstore and Powerbooks.

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