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Bristol Royal Hospital for Children

Role of the Lead Artist

Key Themes and Design Concepts

The involvement of Ray Smith with the design team during the development of the arts strategy was critical in ensuring that art would be integrated within the fabric of the new hospital. When Ray was appointed early in spring 1997 the architects and interior designer Lee Cheong had developed broad concepts and principles for the scheme, however nothing was fixed at that point.

The Trust and Design Team wanted colour to be a key feature of the interior and Ray was selected in part for his specialist knowledge and understanding of colour as a painter. Having proposed the notion of a movement through adjacent harmonies ofthe colour spectrum as one travels up through the floors, Ray then spent a great deal of time developing this idea experimenting to arrive at the exact colours. Lee and Ray had many meetings dedicated to the subject of colour elaborating precise degrees of saturation, brightness of colour etc.

Starting on Level 3 (Level 2 is the main entrance) the dominant colour is a warm orange/red. This moves up through yellow, to green, to blue and finally to blue-violet on Level 7. Colouris most intense or saturated at key public orientation points – the stairwells and lift lobbies. These concentrations of vibrant colour allow the visitor an almost instinctive sense of place/direction. Responding to indications from children that clinical and non-clinical areas should not be confused, the intensity of colour gradually recedes as one moves from these ‘hot spots’ of colour at key public spaces, towards the patient or treatment areas wherea more neutral ivory shade predominates.

This broad colour scheme created a framework for a range of further interventions within the interiors of the key public areas. Unique designs were developed for each Level based on simple themes suggested by the dominant colours. For example yellow suggested sandcastles or a seaside theme, and blue-violet introduced the potential for an outer-space concept. These simple themes informed additional colours, ideas and imagery for aspects of the interiors including commissioned vinyl flooring based on a stepping-stoneor ‘hop scotch’ motif common to all the levels, door designs in vinyl laminate, and unique themed nurses’ stations on four wards. Lee and Ray developed a conviction that the more simple the designs the better, and both were conscious ofthe need to get the right balance, including a degree of restraint.

For artist and designer the issue of getting the colours exactly right was of paramount importance and a great deal of testing and research was involved in the final result. For example in designing the floors they were not satisfied with available colours of vinyl for the floors, but were able to persuade vinyl manufacturer Marley to develop four new colours – based on swatches supplied by Ray - which now form part of the Marley range. An early idea of softening the ‘hard’ edges between floor and wall by creating a wavy border within corridor skirting and crashrails, allowed for the introduction of additional complementary colours that enlivened the dominant floor or wall colours.

Hoare Lee, lighting engineers’ design of interior lighting is an integrated element of the colour scheme. Many areas of the hospital do not have access to natural light, although the architects have maximised the effect of daylight with large windows in the landings of the staircase and lift-lobbies. Discreet lightfittings and a simulated daylight in the interior spaces create a fresh bright quality of light which in tandem with the colour scheme give an impression of deriving from a natural light source.

The initial pilot project allowed Ray fifteen days to get to know the project, to brainstorm ideas with the Design Team, Project Team and arts consultant, and to produce a written report and design proposal. Many of the important concepts developed in this preliminary stage were in fact retained within the final design.

Commissioning and Installation

In a project of this scale and complexity, the role of the artist was critical during the final stages of production and installation of the designs. The architects and designer had the expertise to direct the procurement process, liase with suppliers and contractors etc. However it was also essential for Ray to oversee the process of his designs being ‘translated’ or interpreted by manufacturers and suppliers. Computer-drawn plans for the vinyl flooring designs, based on Ray’s original hand-drawn designs,had to be amended, re-checked, modified, and checked again several times. Each time designs for doors were being made, Ray would to travel to County Durham to check on the production of the screen-printedlaminates, and subsequently attend the process of the manufacture of the doors in Devon. With the nurses’ stations he worked closely with Charlton Projects in Bristol who built each desk as unique artworks incorporating new laminate printing techniques. His presence was critical in getting colours and details just rightin all aspects of these designs and it was vital that time was allowed in his contract for the overseeing of such details.


By all accounts the collaboration between artist, interior designer, architect and client was a happy conjunction. LeeCheong was responsible for ensuring that the interior design held together as a complete scheme and he observed that the development of the scheme was greatly helped by a healthy budget allowing the DesignTeam greater freedom, more flexibility to achieve good design solutions, wider choice of materials, fixtures and fittings etc.

The project is the result of successful partnership and team working, with evidence of great commitment from all of the members of the team. Project Director Graham Nix worked tirelessly to instil a sense of the special nature of the project to all who contributed to its realisation, whether sponsor, carpenter, electrician or artist, in order to ensure their best efforts, and to build a strong sense of achievement and local ownership in the unique project. The whole team were aware that this project offered a very rare opportunity, particularly in the context of the NHS, and all strived – along with all who were involved in this project - to achieve the best possible results for the children’s hospital.

© Copyright Jane Connarty 2002.