Patient art work made out of plain packaging tape is displayed in the hospital's lobby. See-through panels decorated with clear plastic tape interact with polarized light to reveal multi-colored patterns that look like stained glass. (Amy Snyder/Exploratorium)
Hands-on exhibits in a children’s hospital? Yep, who knew it would be such a good match. The Exploratorium’s Global Collaborations division recently created 16 exhibits for the new UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.
During our first brainstorming sessions with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, we started to feel the giddiness of a win-win collaboration. UCSF talked about how hospitals are places where joyous moments are rare but oh so needed and can go a long way. Our marching orders were clear: we had an opportunity to try and offer moments of delight and exploration for patients and their families in an environment where little of that exists. This was just the beginning of a project where we completed a Master Plan, rounds of design, professional development workshops with UCSF Teachers, and built and installed exhibits at the new hospital.
But before we could move into planning and design, we had a lot to learn. The UCSF Child Life Specialists, architecture team, and even alumni families and patients helped us to understand some of the daily conditions of being in a healthcare environment. They also helped us see the enormous potential for positive influence that exhibits might have in a hospital. Some of the goals we gravitated towards included creating moments of positive distraction and empowering patients. We wanted to offer moments of calm or delight as well as ownership and creative agency. We thought: In a place with so many gadgets and buttons, let’s give the patients some they could use.
Though, when we opened our sketchpads, we really had to ask ourselves, how are we going to do this? We knew it wouldn’t be easy addressing the unique needs and limitations of designing exhibits and experiences in a healthcare environment. Our development, design, and engineering teams stretched their thinking to address infection control and flexible accessibility. Meanwhile, our developers, evaluators, and writers identified exhibits that offered a variety of experiences, depth, and range. Our team constantly kept these considerations in mind in order to maximize impact for the patients, their siblings, and their parents. We also wanted to keep things simple for the hospital staff, who have the most important roles after all.
Exploratorium teachers and exhibit developers worked closely with UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital teachers, learning from each other. (Danielle Wong/Exploratorium)
Exploratorium teacher staff trained several UCSF teachers in inquiry-based learning and how to guide science activities in the classroom or at the bedside. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital has a kindergarten through 12th grade school on site that is part of the San Francisco Unified School District. Working with the teachers, we wanted to have an impact in as many places around the hospital as we could, from the parking garage, to the lobby, to the classroom, and even the bedside.
Over the past couple months, we’ve occasionally visited the hospital since they have opened and become operational. It’s certainly a very lively and impressive place on its own. And, on top of that, to see and hear about how well-received the exhibits are is just over-the-top exciting. Patients are requesting exhibits to be brought to their room and venturing to other parts of the hospital to see the exhibits sprinkled around. Our team is beaming with proudness to hear about the smiles that these exhibits are bringing to the hospital.