Architects have long studied and practiced the creation of space that aims to shape and enhance the human experience. The philosophy and practice of theories such as phenomenology in architectural design (study of how space is experienced) became prevalent in the 20th Century and continues today. How spaces make us feel is a difficult thing to measure but we know how one space makes us feel as opposed to another. This article describes the experiences of our team and our clients within our new purpose-built space.
Contemporary literature indicates that this concern with the effect design has on the occupant is coming to the forefront again.
This literature indicates the importance of both the human relationship and the relationship to the environment and design around us.
Architectural journals such as HERD, Environment Behavior and World Health Design focus on the impact buildings have on behaviour and what many call environmental behaviour. Through research with a major focus on health care, we can start to lay the ground work to better predict the physiological, emotional and healing functional effects of architecture (2)
For the practising chiropractor, there is a never-ending journey of learning and growth.
Daily practice brings focus on the science, art and philosophy of chiropractic, yet perhaps we neglect to focus on the physical environment we work in.
This includes the décor and design of our working space and the cleanliness and feel of the environment.
Taking the learnings from architectural and behavioural journals one may conclude that the physical environment will play a major role in working with you to create a paramount experience for patients to truly and holistically thrive.
Working with children and families requires an innovative design. A movement away from stagnant ‘look but don’t touch’ and into a world of interaction and exploration. Understanding the relationship of space and design started a journey into a whole new level of supporting families for me. It is here that the journey for designing the Australian Children’s Chiropractic Centre began, with lessons from research, constant practice and innovation for all practicing chiropractors.
The Building Of Australian Children’s Chiropractic Centre – The Journey
I knew this practice and our industry needed to make a statement. My goal was to create a state of the art, research-based practice that would play a pivotal role in the future of chiropractic care for children in Australia and across the world. To ensure this outcome nothing could be left to chance, every element needed to be researched, planned and executed to be the most innovative and resourceful version of itself.
A chance meeting with architect Cassie Stronach of Group D instigated a design discussion of what the future of Children’s Chiropractic could look like. With a business card in hand, I researched Cassie and her work. She had a quirky background of architectural, interior and art installation design where each project had a certain joie de vivre about it. I knew I had found the right woman to work with, someone who would help me break the mould of white walled, closed room, health care and bring to life what we see as the first ACCC.
Traditionally chiropractic services have been offered from converted homes (much like medical doctors) or characterless commercial centres. We knew we need to do something different for our families to provide the optimal environment for chiropractic care, healing and growth.
The project began with an overall vison and after mapping out the traffic flow and monitoring air and light movement we started installing the textures and textiles. Although well known in corporate architecture this exploration of behaviour, physiology and mood in the health care arena, particularly in private practice, is certainly in its infancy.
The ACCC is now running as a fun, busy and exciting space for families.
‘My girls are so relaxed when they come to Australian Children’s Chiropractic Centre. It’s so welcoming, the girls regularly ask me when their next adjustment is so they can come to a space they feel so at home. However it is diffciult to get them to leave!’ – Rosie Neary – Mum of 3 little ladies.
The 2009 Sketch is Reality in 2016
Like most big projects, that rarely start quickly, the ACCC was a long-term development. It started as a sketch in a notebook back in 2009. More than just a practice space, it has become a positive environment that has life and creates a wonderful space for the humans within.
As the doors opened to the Australian Children’s Chiropractic Centre in July 2016 the excitement for our space was instantaneous. The testing crew – the children – responded in such a wonderful way. We could see the positive results from our hours of research and design.
What we saw was an incredible immediate transformation. All children, regardless of background or ability instantly felt at home and at ease. Those who would normally be hesitant of new faces and new spaces simply walked in, smiled and then ran to the swings. The little ones that would usually hide behind Mum’s legs, found themselves hiding in our rock pillows, a textural play of elements.
The toddlers who found it distressing when a parent gets adjusted (because it’s their sole focus in a closed stale room) now didn’t notice or care that it was Dad’s turn, they were off in a tunnel exploring.
The vibrant energy of families with 3, 4 or 5 members that was previously amplified in small rooms, is now able to expand and contract naturally in our open space helping everyone feel more at ease.
Our specifically designed space, more detailed than your average open plan, allowed for this to happen naturally.
‘In designing the space we put ourselves in the shoes of a child and thought about all the fun we could have in a space imagined just for us’- Architect Cassie Stronach
The clinical experience has now elevated into a new level of interaction. The interplay between clinician, child and environment is in my opinion vastly under appreciated. It is now my experience that working in a unique, well thought out clinical environment provokes a completely different result clinically. It has led to an effectiveness, completeness and elevated level rewarding encounter I had not ever experienced.
The environment is incredibly important for our health. We draw and share energy with the people and things around us. A chemically, socially or emotionally toxic environment creates stress. We also know through behavioural studies that closed rooms versus open rooms alter cortisol levels, and the levels of cortisol in the time after the encounter. Closed rooms create a heightened stress response during and post event (1). This is a good example of why closed rooms are not optimal for kids.
Cassie took particular care when selecting the textures and textiles. ‘We like to think about the effect design might have on all of the senses. If we use soft colours will it be calming? What is the haptic experience like? Do we communicate a safe environment through the soft furnishing and textured carpets?’
Countless seminars teach ways to make our practices more kid friendly, more inviting. Yet when the design for families is created from the beginning rather than aas n afterthought we have an opportunity to turn a space into something more. A space that energises and calms, enhances and intrigues.
This creates a space that allows children to be children without restriction or conformity. Allowing life to express itself to its fullest potential. That is where we have travelled into something special.
It is wonderful to collaborate with a truly inspired client who is passionate not just about what they do, but how that is going to make a difference to those around them. Jacey wanted to shake up the Children’s Health Care industry and we were totally prepared to help make that happen! Cassie Stronach
How To Elevate Your Practices Expression?
Every project needs a story. A story that becomes the essence, strength and guiding light for transforming into something unique and awe inspiring. That story is your why. Why are you doing what you do? Who is it for? And how do you hope to impact their lives?
I had five goals for the practice:
- Bring health care to the forefront of family living.
Outcome: Health care shouldn’t be behind closed doors, looking after one’s health should be front and centre. Part of every day. Transparent and open. This is one reason we went with an open plan design.
- View each child as a future ambassador for their own health and others – they are tomorrow’s health leaders
Outcome: Taking health literacy to a new level children and parents alike should feel excited and intrigued at the amazingness of the human body. This is why all our furniture is light, moveable and stackable. Our whole adjusting bay turns into an education centre. A space for workshops, events and seminars.
- Children are front and centre – their needs take priority
Outcome: We do not have a kids’ corner or a waiting area. Children need space to grow, move and play. Our ‘lounge’ creates a relaxed and fun environment for children to play. Our CAs have experience in childcare to help handle the number of children we have in at a time. We also have other options for children who are unsure of the chiropractic benches – ottomans, bean bags and soft bench seating, all offer different areas that adjustments and cranial work can be performed.
- Honour the natural energy of children
Outcome: Sophistication in colour, design and texture that encourages play, exploration and adventure without adding ‘hype’ to an already energised clientele. We avoided bright colours. Our colour palate is from the Australian bush with a focus on the Eucalyptus tree
- Bring the outside, inside – connect our practice to our environment
Outcome: We took the approach that natural fibres and natural colours would bring a feeling of connectedness and calm to our centre. Just like the popularity of markets, home-made brings energy of time and effort. Our logo is an eagle, we used hand installed and painted shingles to create a special and unique element that makes the centre feel like home. Just as a wedge tailed eagle looks over the land, our top storey looks over the ‘forest themed’ practice below.
We can adapt easily to the needs of the child rather than asking them to conform to our needs. Some of the other winning items:
- Added fibre optics to the ceiling so kids could watch the twinkle stars while getting their cranial work done.
- Installed swings, yes swings (that are tied down) for a fun family feel (adult weight friendly too – always remember the big kids).
- The carpet is designed to look like the pebbles by the river – adds texture and hides stains.
- There is a table and chairs on tiles if kids need to eat while here – afternoon tea is a common communal event.
- Lounges and chairs chosen to be easy spaces to breastfeed
- Majority of toys are wooden for a natural feel
- Our whole centre smells of beautiful essential oils and is only ever cleaned with kid’s safe natural products.
- The kid’s area is the whole reception lounge – it’s not tucked in a corner
- The adjusting bays are open planned (with some screening) to allow for kids to move freely through and around
Ensure you Having A Winning Platform
Planning, preparation and execution were critical. There is so much more that went into the developing of our brand and making families feel at home. Even though our practice does not feel clinical, we continue to drive exceptional clinical practice through integrating the Well Kids Program as the major driver of the documenting and reporting methods.
I now ask you and your staff to sit back and reflect on how you could start to shift the values and goals of your space to be more suited to the young families. Those small shifts in values, reflected in your decisions and actions can bring a whole new level to the experience of working with children and helping them thrive.
How can you adapt your space though design and architecture to enhance the healing experience in your practice?
Dr Jacey Pryjma
- Fich & al. Physiol Behav.2014 Aug;135:91-7. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.05.034. Epub 2014 Jun Can architectural design alter the physiological reaction to psychosocial stress? A virtual TSST experiment.
- Building a better world: can architecture shape behaviour? January 7, 2014 6.30am AEDT http://theconversation.com/building-a-better-world-can-architecture-shape-behaviour-21541