The St. Louis Children’s Hospital Specialty Care Center is one of only a few stand-alone, comprehensive outpatient facilities in the U.S. focused exclusively on patients up to the age of 21. The center, designed by CannonDesign and located approximately 12 miles from the main St. Louis Children’s Hospital campus in a St. Louis suburb, provides community-based care in a more accessible, convenient, and less intimidating environment.

The design team conducted broad research to understand how children interact with and perceive healthcare spaces. Based on the findings, a number of different pediatric patient profiles were created—spanning the age and cognitive development spectrum—to understand how the environment could be leveraged as a therapeutic tool.

From the outside, the three-story building’s linear design complements the neighboring low-rise residences, while punches of color and the hospital system’s signature “blue band” make it clear that the building’s purpose is to serve children. The interior spaces follow a theme of imagination and discovery; the color palette, artwork, window walls, and environmental graphics offer opportunities for children to play, learn, socialize, and explore. To enhance the patient experience, patients are given a special “passport” when they arrive. As they “travel” to different departments throughout the building or undergo tests or procedures, they get their passport stamped, with the goal of turning the experience into something they can look forward to.

To inform the placement of positive distractions, the team interviewed clinical leaders to better understand how treatments, therapies, and procedures impact how children are physically positioned during an appointment. Findings informed the placement of graphic elements on the walls, ceilings, and floors; for example, when a child is seated on an exam table for an immunization, graphic elements are placed on the wall where the child is facing to reduce fear and make them more receptive to treatment.

The new facility opened in June 2015. The St. Louis Children’s Hospital is currently assessing ways design strategies used at the new specialty care center can translate to other facilities across its sites.