Chelsea Children’s Hospital’s healing space

Commissioned by the Chelsea and Westminster Health Charity, design studio Thomas.Matthews has designed the look and feel of seven new wards with an overarching space theme at the Chelsea Children’s Hospital (CCH) in London…

Commissioned by the Chelsea and Westminster Health Charity, design studio Thomas.Matthews has designed the look and feel of seven new wards with an overarching space theme at the Chelsea Children’s Hospital (CCH) in London…

Thomas.Matthews created a My Universe concept born out of research into patient experience in each of the wards – and also out of their own learnings from working on projects for the Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre (home to the Lovell Telescope) and also for the Weller Astronomy galleries at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

The design group then commissioned illustrators Gilles Jourdan and Cecilie Barstad of Giles & Cecilie Studio and also Malika Favre to collaborate and bring the concept to life. The first three wards have now been completed, so here’s a look at them:

At the heart of the creative idea is that each ward is the home to a particular family of illustrated characters who have unique character traits, behaviours and expressions that compliment the role of the ward itself. So the Mars family live in the Burns ward and are, Favre tells us, “super adventurous and want to fly no matter what and end up with bumps and scratches all the time but nothing would stop them from trying.”

Visit the High Dependency Unit to find the Apollo family, which Favre describes as “a bit more eccentric, they are all circus people who have adopted all the animals that have been sent into space throughout history.”

Meanwhile, the Mercury family (which consists of wise and curious trees who read a lot) can be found in the Surgical ward:

“Our wish was to make the hospital a more welcoming, friendly and colourful space,” say Gilles & Cecilie of the project. “The illustrated characters within the wards are designed to interact with the visitors of the hospital to give them comfort, assurance and advice. We hope the designs will be a tool to help the patients feel better and more relaxed.”

In terms of how the illustrators worked together, Favre told CR that she spent a lot of time in Gilles & Cecilie’s Shoreditch studio over the last six months in order to come up with all the characters and the narrative for each ward. “It was quite a freeform project,” she says, “but also a very challenging one. All three of us are illustrators with fairly distinctive styles, so we had to find a graphic solution we were all happy with, a shared vision.”

Once the trio had found a collaborative middle ground (and a charming one at that) they then worked on a host of narratives based around the idea that the various characters would display a range of emotions, both positive and negative, to make the characters more human and more easy to identify with for the hospital’s patients.

“Most characters are a reference to a real person from the history of space mapping and exploration,” says Favre, “and some of the narrative scenarios reference historical space experiments,” she continues, “with others inspired by some of our own adventures and memories,” she continues.

“The most important thing for all of us was to avoid the kiddy type clichés and give the children something they could relate to without partronising them.”

Chelsea Children’s Hospital is the latest London hospital to act on the findings of research into the positive effects of art in healthcare environments and the clinical effects of colour.

We recently posted about a new interactive design environment the New Royal London Hospital created by architects Cottrell & Vermeulen and graphic designer Morag Myerscough which was commissioned by Vital Arts (read that post here).

Vital Arts also commissioned illustrators Andrew Rae and Chrissie Macdonald last year to create a fun illustrated narrative to run on the walls of the corridors linking the children’s ward to the operating theatre in the Royal London Hospital (read our post about it here).

Also, in the new April issue of CR, Mark Sinclair’s Healing Spaces feature (opening spread, shown above) investigates the transformative power of art and design when used in hospital environments.

See more of Thomas.Matthews work at

The April print issue of CR presents the work of three young animators and animation teams to watch. Plus, we go in search of illustrator John Hanna, test out the claims of a new app to have uncovered the secrets of viral ad success and see how visual communications can both help keep us safe and help us recover in hospital

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