Designing better mental healthcare facilities

Projects Office creates ‘third space’ at Edinburgh hospital

A ‘radically designed’ new Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) has opened in Edinburgh.

The unit, which will bring together a number of existing services in a new purpose-built facility at the new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, comprises outpatient facilities for 5-18 year-olds and an inpatient unit for 12-18 year-olds. ‘Colourful, light-filled, playful, and practical’, it ‘challenges assumptions about how healthcare environments should look and feel’ says the designer of the ‘enhanced interiors’ – which were funded the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity, architectural practice, Projects Office. The project was delivered by Ginkgo Projects for NHS Lothian.

Projects Office claims to have designed ‘a new tool’ for improving mental healthcare – ‘a third space which is neither hospital nor home, but a healing space with its own unique identity, directly inspired by conversations with patients, parents, and staff’. It says the charity-funded project has transformed the space allocated into a colourful, comfortable interior environment connected to courtyards, and ‘activated’ by murals and play equipment designed by the architects.

Projects Office said: “Working with a forward-thinking NHS team, we as the architects, and consultant artist, James Leadbitter, engaged with patients, clinicians, family members, and carers through workshops, interviews, and informal conversations. From games with eight-year-olds, to intimate conversations with parents, the emotional insights, creative ideas, and practical suggestions which came out of this unique engagement process informed the unit’s layout, look, and feel. Combining subtle interventions with bold colours and forms, the design facilitates conversation, enables privacy, and ensures safety for young people in acute distress.”

Architect and Projects Office co-founder, James Christian, said: “It’s been a great privilege to work with an inspired NHS team and charity funders who were keen to embrace unconventional ideas. At a time of stretched NHS funding and increased demand for mental health services, we believe good design is a powerful and cost-effective healing tool. We also believe that asking patients, staff, and parents what they really need and want from healthcare spaces leads to richer, more useful spaces.”

Among the features informed by user engagement are:

  • Flexible seating. Projects Office said: “Many teenagers consider their bedrooms at home to be their private space. However, in a CAMHS unit, the bedroom is where many patients spend time with their parents. Sitting side by side on a bed can seem unnatural, while sitting on a desk chair facing a child on the bed is overly formal. “I wouldn’t really go into my teenage daughter’s bedroom at home”, one mother said, “It feels intrusive”. Projects Office’s’ simple solution’ is a movable upholstered ottoman which ‘transforms from window seat to seating for two’ – enabling families to arrange seating in the way which works for them – ‘a small intervention with powerful implications for enabling intimate conversations in stressful circumstances’.
  • Space to retreat. Young people suffering severe distress may need different levels of privacy, while remaining safe and visible to staff. Projects Office designed opportunities for retreat within a shared communal space, including upholstered nooks, and an inhabitable ‘lighthouse’.
  • A ‘coastal theme’: the sea and the seaside were frequently mentioned by users of all ages in relation to good mental health. The architects developed a theme which mediated from ‘seaside’ to ‘rugged east coast’ to provide age-appropriate, aesthetically coherent spaces.
  • ‘Third space’. Projects Office said: “To prevent ‘colluding with the anorexic state of mind’, which can deny the severity of the illness, parents advised that the unit should not be too homely. It also couldn’t be ‘clinical’, which can be scary to young people. Instead, we created a new ‘third space’: an environment with a strong sense of identity clearly distinct from both hospital and home.”


David Pickering-Gummer, General manager, REAS, NHS Lothian said, “The facilities within the new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People are simply fantastic, and the CAMHS facilities are no exception. The spaces have been designed with real thought to ensure that they can not only facilitate first-class patient care, but will equally help put our patients and their families at ease. We are delighted to have worked with Ginkgo and Projects Office in designing this incredible space, and are grateful to Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity for its continued funding and support.”

The project is part of an art and therapeutic design programme curated and delivered by Ginkgo Projects for the NHS Lothian, the UK’s second largest health authority




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