Create an Interactive Flooring Motif

Wayfinding-type designs give colorful orientation to both kids and staff at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles

Healthcare Building Ideas - October/November, 2006

by Ron Treister

old-fashioned threshing machine floor mural

Above and below: Intricate carpet designs were cut using state-of-the-art water-jet technology in this themed-waiting area.

floor mural

elevator floor designs

Above and below:Three distinctive animal prints — tiger, giraffe and peacock - are the key identifying factors in each department at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. This giraffe print is noticeable on the floor right through into the elevator.

stone floor mural

animal skin carpet design

Above and below: Animal skins were chosen for the flooring based on their universal recognition, ease of cleaning and difference in colors.

animal skin carpet design

Although the one-of-a-kind wayfinding symbols added warmth and vibrancy to the white walls and floors of Childrens Hospital, Ford went a step further with her design. She transformed two waiting areas into beach and park-themed lobbies, representing two places to which children love to go. Ford's unique perspective on the two themed lobbies and three animal-print elevators liven up Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Children and families from around the globe can now make routine appointments or long hospital stays a more interesting and potentially fun experience, while feeling confident as they navigate a facility's hallways.■

Ron Treister is president of Communicators International, a Portland, Maine-based marketing firm. He can be reached at

Artistic visionaries in healthcare design today are looking to the floor as an unpainted canvas. Designers understand that fresh concepts in a children's hospital can provide a sense of comfort in a potentially daunting environment. Because children are remarkable for their love of playful, eye-catching or interactive displays, progressive designers play off these emotions when creating unique images for hospital walls and floors. Designer Patricia Ford of FordDesign envisioned an interactive design motif for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. The entire flooring was transformed into an animated sanctuary for visitors to literally — step inside a map — to find their way around the hospital's puzzling walkways and elevators. The practice of innovative directional design, now commonly known as wayfinding, establishes nonverbal directions throughout the hospital, giving everyone, but especially children, orientation in a colorful, memorable way.

Navigational symbols

Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, one of the world's top pediatric facilities, treats more than 62,000 children a year in its emergency department and admits more than 11,000 children a year to stay over at least one night. The existing hospital consists of three buildings, with three different elevators, which connect the wings of the hospital. The wayfinding system is essential for patients and visitors, because once a person selects the wrong elevator on the ground floor and takes it to another level, it's extremely difficult to navigate to the correct destination.

Part of the wayfinding system is to create symbols throughout the different areas that people can recognize and associate with each department. The flooring at all major intersections, or areas adjacent to elevators, was embedded with compasses to guide visitors to the correct elevator.  Each elevator was identified by one of three distinguishable animal prints. These three animal prints — tiger, giraffe and peacock — became the identifying factor throughout each department. For example, children admitted to the area classified by the tiger print would know to look for the tiger print on the floors to guide their way to the tiger section of the hospital. The tiger pattern would be noticeable on the floor, on every map of the hospital and at each elevator station.

"There was no real visual character in the old hospital. We needed to do something that would cheer up the place," said Ford. "We couldn't just pick any animal we wanted for the floor design. A lot of research went into selecting an animal print that was recognizable to children and adults of all nationalities and cultures. Childrens Hospital has patients from all around the world and 70 languages are spoken there, so we also had to consider which animal names were recognizable to people that spoke different languages."

Creative technique

The animal skins were chosen by their universal recognition, ease of cleaning and difference in colors. In such a busy commercial setting with tremendous deterioration, the designer had to consider a washable surface that was less vulnerable to damage. Each print had to be different enough from each other for visitors to recognize a difference in color, shape and pattern. Patterns that were too similar or too universal could be mistaken for each other.

Ford chose carpet tiles for this application. Since the designs were so unique to this particular setting, Ford had to have the material specially cut in the form of each animal print by professional water-jet artists. Ford, who has a background in graphic design, created the drawings.

"Water-jet cutting is an ideal process for any health care institution because what results is a section of the wall or floor, perfectly cut, time-after-time. And, these designs should be saved to disk and re-used over and over again," said [Creative Edge] co-owner [Harri Aalto], that cut the flooring designs. "People can use these designs as aesthetic items such as wall or floor murals. Or, they may be used as wayfinding indicators. Visitors or those who unfortunately, are not always in the calmest state when in a hospital, can be easily directed through the institution via in-floor signage that is perfectly visible and inlayed on the same exact plane as the floor covering material surrounding it."

Water-jet cutting works by forcing a large volume of water through a small orifice in a nozzle, located at the end of a robotic arm. The accelerated force and extreme pressure create a rapid stream of water that is able to cut through materials, leaving a small kerf width and an incredibly accurate cut. Factors such as the nozzle openin shape, the size of the orifice and pressure intensifiers, allo' for differing amounts of control and pressure variations. Since the early 1980s, water-jet cutting has had an advantage over other forms of cutting because no dust is produced, little raw material is wasted, no heat is generated to change the properties most materials, and it does not leave rough edges that require sanding or finishing. (It is also a green process.) The result: Unique flooring products that enhance and enliven interior design spaces through a useful machining process.