The idea: Located on the seventh floor of the University of Minnesota Medical Center’s Riverside East Building, the Child/Adolescent Mental Health program at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital faced a number of space challenges.

To start, double-loaded corridors offered little daylighting for interior rooms, as heavy doors closed in hallways and rooms and poor lighting filled corridors with shadows.

Shifts in mental healthcare today call for fewer obvious security measures and less patient seclusion, and so the facility required a shift in its physical space, too, as well as an aesthetic update to better fit the theme and design elements woven into the new, neighboring Amplatz Children’s Hospital. With a philanthropic gift in place, the hospital sought to create a unit that could support a variety of uses, accommodate group settings, and let in plenty of light.

How they did it: While patient safety was a top priority, the new space also had to be nonthreatening while providing dignity to patients and staff. That vision guided the overall design, led by BWBR (St. Paul, Minn.).

The design team looked to its work at the Avera Behavioral Health Center at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., which influenced elements like the use of colors to indicate transitions from personal to social spaces and textures to engage senses, as well as creating outlets for creativity and options for personal choice. Also incorporated was Amplatz Children’s theme, “Passport to Discovery,” which shaped the color palette and wayfinding. Structurally, the narrow footprint of the unit and numerous existing columns presented their own challenges, with the resolution to keep existing walls in place.

The design team also created an entry that would be shared by patients of the adolescent mental health program and patients of the intensive treatment center that’s housed on the same floor, creating an inviting way in to the unit that brings calm to what may be a higher-acuity patient base. Finally, sequencing was critical because the departmental renovation encompassed the sixth floor below.

The big reveal: Opening in November 2012, the renovated unit has already yielded positive feedback as a calm, hopeful environment from patients, families, and staff. Among its most successful spaces is the Rainbow Room (pictured here), a group therapy room that now provides better, adjustable lighting and a comforting atmosphere to calm the group process and facilitate conversations.

The previous space was a multipurpose room, which dissolved the significance of the environment for such weighty conversations. The new incarnation is curved, with no hard edges, to create a nonthreatening environment with plenty of natural light.

Also noteworthy are the unit’s sensory room where patients are provided with a creative outlet, a game room in the intensive treatment center, and overnight rooms for parents with pullout couches, TVs, and showers.

Do you have a space that's been transformed? Send before and after photos, and a brief project description, to Jennifer Kovacs Silvis at

For an extended look at the Amplatz Children's Hospital Child-Adolescent Mental Health project, please see PHOTO TOUR: Amplatz Children’s, Mental Health Program.

For more on BWBR's mental health facility design work, please see Rethinking Behavioral Health Center Design.