A hospital relaxation room to make cancer treatment “less daunting”

Guy’s Hospital recently invested in a £50 million project to improve cancer care at the London NHS trust – we speak to BAT Studio about designing The Living Room, a tranquil, listening space where those living with cancer can use their imaginations to escape the real world.

Guy’s Hospital in London opened a new cancer centre in 2016, which looked to bring all cancer care under one roof, alongside its medical research and clinical trials.

Alongside streamlining how people receive cancer treatment at the hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust also hoped to improve the patient experience of going through the potentially traumatic events of diagnosis and treatment.

The project also aimed to drastically increase the number of patients treated at the centre to 6,500 per year, and almost double the number of radiotherapy treatments from 47,500 to 80,000 per year, as well as improve training for clinicians and link up the latest medical research with treatment more coherently.

The Cancer Centre was a £50 million project, funded by the NHS trust, grants from the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, philanthropists, and donations from individual supporters raised through fundraising.

As part of the new centre, £1.7 million was donated by the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity towards a visual and performing arts programme, which included a new relaxation room that could be used by both in and outpatients and their families. No NHS funds were spent on the arts programme.

The Living Room, a new space where patients can sit, relax and listen to various soundscapes, has been open since 2018 and is part of the centre’s efforts to improve the patient experience. It was designed, built and installed by architectural and interior design studio Between Art and Technology (BAT), with a bespoke app containing 35 different soundscapes created by another studio, The Workers.

The room was co-designed with the hospital’s existing and recovering cancer patients, alongside their families, who helped to inform the design choices, such as colour palettes, materials and soundscapes.

“It’s a bit like a meditation space, without any kind of religious connotations,” says Jonty Craig, co-founder at BAT. “It’s somewhere patients can go to get away from being in the hospital environment, and take a break from the stresses and strains of cancer treatment.”

Craig says the studio wanted to create the “antithesis of a sterile hospital environment”, so went for fabric chairs and cushions, alongside bamboo stools, floors and walls, which aim to create a more “natural” feel to the space, without feeling “overly organic”.

Hygiene was an important consideration given the hospital setting, Craig says, so the studio settled on an impermeable fabric and bamboo wood, which can both be “easily cleaned”.

 

A three-dimensional (3D) grid system has been installed across the walls, to help break up and “articulate” the space, by having shapes that “pop in and out of the room”, he adds. These grids can also be used as a bookshelf, which aims to give the feel of a real living room and enable patients to read there if they like, while also acting as a discrete way to hide the speakers used for sound.

There are four separate “zones” or listening booths in the space, which look to give users privacy, whereas the centre of the space is open with stools to allow a more community feel, Craig says. Roughly 13 people can fit in the room at one time.

The speakers are embedded within the furniture creating ambient sound, which means four different soundscapes can be played in the room at one time without interference. This removes the need for headphones, but there are also earphone sockets for those who want them.

 

The 35 different soundscapes are accessed via tablets embedded into the furniture – the screens do not show photography or imagery, but instead a written description of a setting along with the current weather and time of that place, to allow the user’s “mind and imagination to do the rest”, says Craig.

The sounds, which were suggested by patients, are as broad as rush hour in Bangkok, Thailand and a camp-fire in Mongolia to more stereotypical peaceful beach and sea settings. They are pre-recorded but respond to real-time data — meaning that, if it is currently raining in Bangkok, users will hear rain.

“We included a wide collection of soundscapes based on questionnaires we gave to patients,” Craig says. “We gave them the starting point of places they would like to hear and went from there.”

The room is not restricted to in-patients, and is based on the ground floor of the main lobby in the Cancer Centre, meaning any visitors or those attending appointments can also wander in.

“It’s a very accessible space,” Craig says. “It’s about the mental health side to cancer, and not only looking after your body but also your mind. Something like this can give patients a bit of relief from what can be really tough situations, and make the hospital feel more personal and less daunting.”

Craig adds that, while similar meditation and relaxation rooms exist in smaller cancer treatment centres such as Maggie’s Centres, it is rare to find centres like this in large hospitals.

“We’ve taken input from the positive elements of Maggie’s Centres and done it on a larger scale,” he says. “It’s been really well-received so far, and the trust has been showing other hospital trusts around it.

“We left a comment book in there, and one person wrote that ‘for a little while, it took me away and I felt some peace’ – I felt that was quite poignant and made me feel like making something like this is worth it,” he adds.

The Living Room in Guy’s Hospital’s Cancer Centre is now open. BAT and The Workers completed this project at a subsidised fee. The furniture was made in BAT’s own workshop to make the process more “cost-effective”, says Craig.

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  • mike dempsey February 18, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    I applaud the use of soundscapes to help take people away for the everyday or for contemplation. It is a very powerful transforming tool. However, the room, with its regimented, harsh grid-like structures, looks like the most uninspiring and uncomfortable piece of interior design to “take a break from the stresses and strains of cancer treatment.” The designers say that they have taken their inspiration from the wonderful Maggie’s Centres, having visited some of these myself, I just can’t see it?

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