Tell me a tale: UVA’s Battle Building aims for happier endings

The seven-story Battle Building, which opened in June, brings all of UVA Children’s Hospital’s pediatric care specialists together under a single roof. Photo: Peter Brentlinger The seven-story Battle Building, which opened in June, brings all of UVA Children’s Hospital’s pediatric care specialists together under a single roof. Photo: Peter Brentlinger

Kids and hospitals are not a fun combination, but at least the visit can be as convenient as possible—and maybe even educational. When UVA Health System opened its new pediatric outpatient building, the Battle Building, in June, its aim was to revamp the experience of visiting the hospital, for both patients and their parents.

For one thing, the seven-story structure brings together clinics in dozens of specialties under a single roof, allowing parents to schedule multiple appointments with minimal fuss. Related specialties, like orthopedics and occupational therapy, are grouped together in “neighborhoods.”

Atlanta-based Stanley Beaman & Sears served as interior architects on the project. SBS’s Karen Freeman said that the firm’s first task was to identify a theme that would drive the design for exam rooms and common areas. “It was clear that a simple theme would not serve them well, or age well as time progressed,” she said. Instead, the team asked what traits bind Charlottesville locals together. “A physician we worked with early in the design process stressed that Charlottesville was a really tight community,” said Freeman. “He said that in the morning he might be treating a child in the clinic, and in the evening sitting alongside their parents at a Little League game. He said, ‘We all know each other’s stories.’”

Storytelling seemed an appropriate notion, Freeman added, for a town that boasts the Virginia Festival of the Book, a top-ranked MFA writing program, and a generally high level of scholarship. And UVA has a longstanding tradition of education within the children’s hospital setting: Its Hospital Education Program has been schooling young patients for decades.

The upshot? Four Storytelling Walls, each featuring artwork by a different children’s illustrator and focused on a different idea: adventure, discovery, friendship and imagination. Kids can approach the walls, made up of 40 three-sided drums, and rotate sections to discover, behind the initial image, “even more stories, symbols, and languages,” said Freeman, “inviting children to use their natural curiosity to explore the richness inherent in stories, and perhaps create their own stories along the way.”

The pictures-inside-pictures idea carries through to the Battle Building’s 75 exam rooms, which are decorated with I-spy bookplate designs. “We wanted to create a positive distraction in the exam room that had an imaginative quality—to keep families occupied during any down time, but also to serve as a distraction for children, when needed,” said Freeman. Each I-spy features the silhouette of an image from a Storytelling Wall, made up of smaller icons for kids to find. For example, a giraffe, a fern, and a guitar all hide within an image of Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web.

Curved, colorful walls create nooks for kids to gather in common areas, and Freeman says that finishes and furniture were selected to be kid-sized and kid-friendly. As clinics have moved into the new facility over the summer, it’ll soon be kid-tested, too.