This year has seen the opening of the Brenner Children’s Hospital, a six-story vertical expansion of Wake Forest University’s Baptist Medical Center. Offering many features to enhance children’s experience in visiting and receiving treatment at the hospital, the interior design and furniture selection for the project were the responsibility of Stanley Beaman & Sears (SBS), an architectural firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. In its design, the firm emphasized a nature theme with art, symbols, and color selection representing the local flora and fauna of North Carolina. Other features were added to appeal to the children of the Computer Age. Here is a guided tour of the highlights of the project, offered by SBS partner Betsy Beaman, AIA.

Project Summary

Client: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

Architecture: Stanley Beaman & Sears (Associate Architect for Design); Gresham Smith & Partners (Architect-of-Record)

Design Team: Kimberly N. Stanley, AIA, Director of Healthcare Planning; Betsy Beaman, AIA, Director of Design; Burn Sears, AIA, Managing Principal; Bessie Stephenson, RA, Project Manager; Maya Macesich, RA, Project Architect; Lisa Vriesma and Jenna Hrabovsky, Interior Designers; Portia Gubatan Ellis, RA, and Patrick Johnson, RA, Senior Designers; Lisa Linn, Junior Designer

Engineering: Gresham Smith & Partners (Engineer-of-Record)

Construction Manager: Bovis Lend Lease

Photography: Gary Knight + Associates, Inc.

Completed: September 2002

Total Building Area (gross sq. ft.): 220,000

Total Cost (excluding land): $55,000,000

Cost per Square Foot: $250

The Entrance

“At the entry on each of the six floors, a ‘Discovery Wall’ introduces children to the different regions of North Carolina. Each floor has been assigned a theme color and a graphic icon denoting each of the regions, ranging from the sea, the coast, the Piedmont, and the mountains, to the sky and outer space.

“The 6th floor showcases the ocean and is identified by a fish icon and the color teal. The 7th highlights the coast, with a seashell icon and the color yellow. The 8th alludes to the Piedmont region, with a dragonfly icon and the color sage green. The 9th spotlights the mountains, with a hickory-leaf icon and dark green color. The 10th features a sky theme, with a bird icon and the color cobalt blue. On the 11th floor, children can explore the space theme, identified by a star icon and the color purple. All furnishings, floorcoverings, and wall-coverings echo these themes, floor by floor. The Discovery Walls have the icons etched into them so that children can touch and run their fingers over the images.”

Interactive Video Wall

“This special feature is located in a two-story space spanning the 7th and 8th floors. It is a 14′ x 32′ video-projection wall that is activated when children step on one of six nature-icon spotlights on the floor. This immediately calls up video footage related to that particular icon-for example, coastal Cape Hatteras, lighthouses, balloon races, the sea, views of outer space-with musical accompaniment. The extraordinary video material has been donated by The [Jacques] Cousteau Society, North Carolina Public Television, NASA, and others. This feature offers a constant view of affirming imagery and reinforces the Brenner Children’s Hospital’s reputation as a caring and healing environment.”

Rooftop Playground and Garden

“Because of the limited site, the design team suggested a rooftop play-scape and learning center. A collaborative effort involving the North Carolina School of the Arts and a team of creative physicians and nurses led to the design of ‘The Magic of Music’-a rooftop playscape that helps children of all ages explore the history of music and musical styles. Interactive kiosks that children can activate at the push of a button teach them about the sounds produced by individual musical instruments-the piano, the violin, and the harp, for example-and how these instruments work. At the end of the pathway is a giant music box that enables the children to activate the instruments simultaneously, creating their own orchestra. Playground equipment and seating for the parents and staff are also included in this space. Plantings and fountains contribute to a more restful atmosphere for those seeking it. The views from the 11th floor roof are spectacular.”

Patient Rooms

“The patient rooms were designed with the family in mind, each having a built-in daybed and other amenities. We have tried to make the rooms look less institutional, with toy shelves, bulletin boards, customized bedding, and lots of warm-feeling wood laminate.”

General Comments

“Kids today are often more sophisticated than they’re given credit for. I think a lot of firms designing children’s hospitals today make the mistake of relying on, say, a Big Bird theme, which is great for toddlers but probably not appropriate for teenagers. We’re incorporating more and more high-tech features, because that’s what kids are interested in. You have to have an element of discovery, something that children find intriguing.

“We want to appeal to the children of the Computer Age, while offering other features that contribute to the healing process. And it appears to work. Studies have shown, for example, that children who are involved in entertaining diversions in the hospital find their perception of pain decreasing significantly, sometimes by as much as 50%. This is a huge motivator for us-knowing that architecture and interior design can have this kind of tangible and meaningful benefit for children and their families.”

Final Note

“We have to really credit our client for being family focused from the beginning and personally involved in the design process and willing to explore a bold, new approach to facilities for children. Ultimately, good design is a positive reflection of the client’s vision.” HD

For further information, phone (404) 524-2200 or e-mail

Healthcare Design 2003 May;3(2):56-61