It’s a unique challenge to design a place where no one wants to end up. When the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston started making plans several years ago to redesign its children’s ward—a facility where premature babies get ventilated in the intensive care unit and children with cancer endure the slow trauma of a life in treatment—its leaders decided early on that the new building needed a design that was as empathetic as possible to patients and families who would rather be anywhere else.
“This is not an environment that is on anybody’s life plan when they’re building a family,” says Dr. Mark Scheurer, a pediatric cardiologist and MUSC’s chief medical officer. “So how do you take that, say it out loud, think about it, and create an environment that actually makes them feel warm and that adjusts to the fact that this is their new normal? How do you do that thoughtfully?”
The way, Scheurer and others decided, was to put patients and families at the center of the design process, along with hospital staff and doctors, to guide the development of the new building—even before an architect had been hired. “We hijacked the process of designing the building unapologetically,” Scheurer says.