Nature-inspired Design: The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne
The design of the $1 billion hospital is based on ‘state of the art’ ideas developed by the RCH and the Department of Health around a care model that puts children and their parents at the centre of the new facility.
Architects: Billard Leece Partnership and Bates Smart
Location: 50 Flemington Road, Parkville Victoria 3052, Melbourne, Australia
The building’s formal arrangement, as well the internal and external spatial experiences, has been assembled to promote a restorative and healing environment for children and their families. The resulting architectonic language has been directly informed by the Royal Park setting, a park with a character much like a typical slice of Victorian bushland.
Special attention was paid to the natural textures, forms and colours of the park and how this could directly inform the material expression of the building. A detailed study resulted which indicates how the built environment infused with the experience of nature can speak to children and help provide a therapeutic hopeful backdrop for those visiting the hospital.
The building has been split into campus masterplan with a central street joining major new public gardens to the north and southwest. The north orientation breaks away from the city grid and turns instead to the park enabling the collection of buildings light-filled landscaped gardens around their full perimeter, avoiding a ‘front and back’ portrayal and enhancing the connection between child and park. The use of narrow footprints for the clinical buildings provides for abundant natural light to enter all corners of the Hospital. The natural slope of the site meant the new facilities could link to the park at three different levels intertwining the Hospital with its park setting.
The Inpatient Building is designed in a star shape, connecting the rooms to the park. More than 80 per cent of the rooms have park views, others look into courtyards. Specially designed glass sunshades on the Hospital’s exterior allow activity in the grounds below to be viewed from the patient’s bed.
Bedroom spaces, 85% that are single occupancy, have been designed to be calm and comforting, befitting a place of recovery and respite. Medical procedures are conducted away from the bedroom whenever possible, leaving the bedroom to be a haven for rest and family time.
A significant feature of the building is the sweep of coloured ‘leaf’ blades along Flemington Road. Fabricated in curved panels, they provide protection from the sun whilst creating a shimmering organic structure and identity for the RCH.
At the heart of the new facility is the six storey ‘Main Street’ which links the elements of the Hospital together through a naturally lit public thoroughfare with expansive views of the parkland beyond. The Main Street features a two-storey coral reef aquarium, large-scale artworks, and a range of places to eat and meet with family, colleagues or friends. Partnerships with Melbourne Zoo, Scienceworks and Hoyts have resulted in popular activities for children and families which distract and engage the imagination of all age groups. The co-location on campus of clinical, research and education elements is an important feature of the design.