WHAT IS IT?
For the temporary location of the Centre for Overweight Adolescent and Children’s Healthcare (COACH) of the Maastricht University Medical Center+, The Netherlands, experience design agency Tinker imagineers created a reusable pop-up concept: a playful and interactive world that nudges children and their parents in the direction of a healthy diet and regular exercise. A motivating and stimulating environment that seems miles away from the world of doctors and hospitals, but does not look too ‘sporty’ or competitive either. But just sitting down and waiting for your turn is a thing of the past!
The programme of COACH is all about coaching children and young adults who are overweight towards a healthy lifestyle. A team of paediatricians, dieticians, psychologists, and educators guide and stimulate the children and their parents. The goals are serious, but children are meant to have fun reaching them.
The childhood obesity epidemic is a critical public health challenge facing the 21st century, incurring a significant loss of quality of life, significant health risks that are likely to project into adulthood (chronic diseases, psychological disorders, premature death) and increased costs to society and healthcare systems worldwide. This underlines the urgency for effective multifaceted interventions to achieve initial and long-term health benefits.
Although healthcare professionals are knowledgeable about desirable healthy behaviour and lifestyle changes for children and families, the clinical setting does not inspire the children to change their behaviour, and it does not meet their needs. They will be motivated to exercise once they feel at ease and are having fun. Providing treatment interventions in an environment that radiates fun positively alter behaviour indirectly, by influencing the individual’s motives to engage in healthy habits. We aimed to create a room that would enhance their self-confidence. And that would subtly reinforce the importance of exercise and a healthy diet. Perhaps just as important: accompanying family members should be challenged to join in the fun as well.
Finding the right look and feel for such an outpatients’ clinic is a delicate matter. We came up with a set-up that matches the mission of COACH to empower children and young people: 'finding their greateness'.
At COACH, play is half the treatment. Consultations and weigh-ins take place in colourful, soundproof pavilions scattered around two central squares, while intersecting lines and surfaces are reminiscent of a mash-up of various playing fields. There is an array of interactive games that require stretching, climbing, swinging, riding, moving, and working together. In the open waiting area, where nobody actually waits, ‘treatment’ starts before the appointment does. The number one stimulus is the fact that you can’t sit down and wait for your turn because the waiting area has been changed into a playground. The design approach and strategy of the programme has proved to be successful: 70 percent of the participants lose weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle under the supervision of COACH.
Every pavilion is varied in shape, colour, and form and has different seating and standing furniture. The pavilions have been constructed with an eye for detail: unexpected touches of colour and remarkable constructions. In order to stress the pop-up character, the structures were made of unfinished wood and the pipes in the ceiling are still visible. The synergy with the builders pushed the project to a higher level of execution. The light plan was adapted as well and refers to the mixed-up lines of a playing field, too.
In the overall design, the element of ‘play’ takes centre stage. The interplay of lines and surfaces is reminiscent of mixed-up playing fields. The space seems to ooze a feeling of ‘anything goes’. But just sitting down and waiting for your turn is a thing of the past!
At the entrance, an interactive wall introduces the participants to the world of COACH. Bringing the animations to life will help them become aware of a healthy lifestyle. children are asked questions about food and exercise. For example: ‘Did you know that breakfast is the best way to start the day?’ or ‘Did you know that your body is like a rechargeable battery?’ A sensor in the wooden wall responds to their touch, and an animation projected on that wall provides the answer. The information is truly brought to life here - in a light, non-patronising way. We deliberately placed some of the touch points higher on the wall, to encourage children to involve their parents in the game.
In the open waiting area, children and their parents/caretakers are challenged to start moving. We chose a combination of digital exhibits and hands-on elements. They can, for instance, try to keep their balance while collecting the healthy products that are falling down on the screen in a shopping cart. Or stretch and work together to make the right, healthy connections that will switch on the lights. Or climb and clamber on the big coloured blocks and the swing or ride with the chariot.
BENEFIT TO CLIENT
Our close collaboration on the current project was based on our shared belief that the urge for activity and the desire for play should be supported by stimulating interactive architecture. The COACH approach is a pilot, and Dr Anita Vreugdenhil (founder of COACH and paediatrician) would love to see the concept adopted by other hospitals.
Dr Vreugdenhil states: “By now, we have shown numerous stakeholders around at the COACH location, and they were all inspired by the healing environment. This has helped us to convey the COACH philosophy, to explain the concept and to win them over – even the managers, cardiologists, ‘hard-core’ medical specialists and researchers… That was a nice bonus!”
“After one year at the new location, the new COACH outpatients’ clinic has turned into an interactive environment where children feel at ease and tend to start exploring. They learn about a healthy lifestyle without any pressure. The room does not remind them of a hospital environment, and the playful consulting rooms help us to keep it light. As a result, the children and their caretakers feel at ease drawing up a treatment plan with us. And it has turned out to be a great meet-up place and source of inspiration for stakeholders in the field of childhood obesity.”
BENEFIT TO SOCIETY
The design approach and strategy of the programme has proved to be very successful: 70 percent of the participants lose weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle under the supervision of COACH!
In terms of social sustainability we believe that some mild disruption could help humanise healthcare design and create healing environments. Of course, hospital rooms need to meet high standards of hygiene, safety and privacy, but we should not be afraid to question certain customs or protocols. Why does every consulting room have a desk computer in it? Why would the sound of playing children annoy people rather than inspire them? In COACH, we found a client who agreed with our observations.
Number 1 disruption with COACH was the fact that the whole clinic was literally taken out of the hospital, away from a clinical environment where overweight or obese children are often stigmatised as being sick or cast as victims. The medical specialists no longer have fixed workplaces or consulting rooms. In keeping with the motto of COACH that ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, the whole team of specialists comes to the children, rather than have them visit the separate departments. In a sense, the pavilions function as tiny village homes. These alternative consulting rooms are not standard issue rooms; they are all different from each other, with an informal vibe. Moreover, they are not reminiscent of a hospital. The playful consulting rooms help staff to conduct the interviews informally.