When Maastricht University Medical Center+ in Maastricht, Netherlands, launched its Centre for Overweight Adolescent and Children’s Healthcare (COACH) in 2011, the program was housed in medical offices within the hospital—a less-than-ideal setup that left kids sitting and waiting in boring hospital spaces.
“The children visiting COACH are not sick—but we’re working hard to prevent them from coming down with such chronic problems as diabetes, cardiovascular issues, liver disease, depression, etc.,” says Dr. Anita Vreugdenhil, a pediatric gastroenterologist and founder of the program. “A normal hospital setting is not ideal for accomplishing those goals.”
The hospital began planning a permanent, centralized building to house the COACH clinic, which is slated to open on the hospital campus in 2020. But in the meantime, leaders wanted to find a temporary solution that provided a more interactive environment to better support goals of inspiring active and healthy lifestyles.
“We sought to create a motivating and stimulating environment that feels far removed from the world of doctors and hospitals, which can be very intimidating to the clinic’s young patients,” says Ralf Lambie, senior creative consultant at Tinker Imagineers (Utrecht, The Netherlands), the design firm working on both the temporary and permanent locations.
The 3,300-square-foot temporary facility, housed in an office complex less than a mile from the main hospital building, is designed to support the interactive nature of COACH’s approach—a message that’s clear the minute patients and families walk in the door.
“The entrance features an interactive wall that asks children questions about food and exercise, such as, ‘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?’” Lambie explains. “A sensor in the wall responds to their touch, and an animation projected on that wall provides the answer.”
In the waiting area, patients are encouraged to keep moving. “We chose a combination of digital exhibits and hands-on elements,” Lambie says. “For instance, they can try to keep their balance while collecting the healthy products that are falling on the screen into a shopping cart, clamber on big colored blocks, or ride a mini-chariot.”
The treatment area consists of colorful and angular soundproof pavilions for weigh-ins and consultations, which are located on the periphery of open areas to make navigating the space as easy as possible.
A variety of intersecting lines and painted surfaces that are a mash-up of various playing fields adds an action-oriented visual vibe. The area also includes an array of games that require stretching, climbing, riding, moving, and collaborating between patients and clinicians.
Because the space is temporary, Tinker Imagineers imbued the project with many attributes of pop-ups, such as plywood materials and bright, eye-catching colors that help create a lively feel.
Vreugdenhil says the program’s play-oriented approach was already showing benefits in the years before the move, with an estimated 70 percent of COACH participants losing weight and adopting a healthier lifestyle. She expects that to continue in the activity-oriented temporary space and future permanent home.
Matthew Hall is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati.