Aug 9, 2023


by Georgia Cameron

Designing for Normalcy: The Benefits of Kid-Friendly Pediatric Hospital Design

Kids will be kids, right? For the 15% of chronically or seriously ill children, that’s not always the case. Necessary medical encounters and in-patient stays challenge normal childhood development. Healthcare settings are fraught with stressors for children and their families, and the impact of these challenges is significant. To address this, designers must aim to design for normalcy—which means creating a familiar environment for the child while they receive treatment, supporting patient inclusion and understanding of the clinical plan, and striving to make them as comfortable as possible during the process. This requires a delicate balance between providing a space that children can enjoy, while supporting the required interventions and interactions that occur during treatment.  


There are five factors we consider when designing for normalcy in pediatric hospital settings.

  • Perceived stressors for children
  • Child-centered coping strategies
  • Risk factors
  • Clinical status
  • Developmental status

These factors serve as a filter to ensure all designs incorporate details that respect the sense of normalcy in a treatment setting. For instance, we include games that provide distraction through sensory stimulation, create spaces that support social interaction among patients, and offer choices to promote independence and dignity. Additionally, we provide opportunities for movement and motor skills development, add visual cues that help patients access information, and allocate space for emotional and verbal expression. By incorporating these components, we create a joyful environment that fosters a kid-friendly atmosphere within the pediatric care facility.


In partnership with Atrium Health, Little has designed a variety of spaces for Levine Children’s Hospital and the new Levine Children’s Medical Plaza, a 5-level 170,000 SF medical office building housing over 30 healthcare specialties. This specialty center allows young patients to receive coordinated, seamless care outside the hospital.

The renovations include a Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit and the first MIBG (meta-iodobenzylguanidine) therapy suite in Charlotte, NC.  There are also therapeutic playrooms and specialized treatment spaces like The HEARTest Yard and the Torrey Hemby Center for Blood & Cancer Disorders. The patient-centered areas prioritize normal childhood behavior and development, while still supporting clinical work.

Take a tour below to see examples of how we have designed for normalcy in real pediatric healthcare environments.

A “sky” theme was implemented in flooring patterns, wall graphics, cloud ceiling accents, and lighting to provide patients at The HEARTest Yard Congenital Heart Center with a welcoming environment rooted in hospitality. Curving walls and circular seats are intended to reduce anxiety and provide comforting distractions, offering an escape from direct social interactions.
When thoughtfully designed, the moment of arrival should make you feel like you’ve reached the right place—a location that knows children well and offers excellent care. Abundant natural light, transparency, and thoughtful interior design are very affordable ways to achieve a welcoming reception area.    
Playrooms featuring furnishings for various postures, non-institutional color palettes, and creative use of each surface for patient engagement are options for disguising a therapeutic playroom as an inspiring space full of patient choices. 
Pediatric patients undergoing MIBG therapy must be isolated from their parents, caregivers, and staff for several days due to the radioactive nature of treatment. The MIBG therapy suite at Levine Children’s Hospital features a treatment room for the patient and an adjoining room protected with a lead-lined, yet transparent window allowing visual contact between the patient and others. The environment of the patient room is enhanced through a specialized fiber optic light system that mirrors a starry night with planets and shooting stars.
Interactive gaming is the star of the show in this infusion space renovation. The Infusionarium allows patients to improve problem-solving skills and cognitive abilities, multi-tasking ability, hand-to-eye coordination, as well as enhances a person’s prosocial behaviors—all while receiving their treatment. The space can accommodate multiple patients at a time, allowing patients to form friendships along the way with others undergoing a similar experience.


Georgia Cameron

As a Healthcare Studio Principal, Georgia leads a team committed to designing healthcare facilities that positively impact people’s lives. Her knowledge base within acute care and complex outpatient facilities has become a resource on which her clients depend. Outside of the office, Georgia can be found with her two young girls, doing anything that isn't scheduled on Outlook.

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