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A colourful makeover for Starship Hospital's Paediatric Intensive Care Unit

11 Mar 2024

Starship Hospital's Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (HDU) recently underwent a transformative expansion and redesign, aimed at addressing the critical shortage of beds and enhancing the overall experience for young patients and their families.

Interior designer Amy Land from Chow Hill Architects, says “Starship Hospital has New Zealand’s only dedicated paediatric intensive care unit and the occupancy levels of the unit’s 22 beds had become critically short to care for the 1.25 million children under 16 across the country. The project’s brief was to address the urgent need to expand by providing ten new beds, lifting the unit’s capacity to care for critically sick and injured children by almost 50 percent. The project also re‐developed more staff and administration space to better accommodate staff and wider health teams.”

The walls are brightly coloured with shades of Resene Hopskotch and Resene Seeker, with a neutral shade throughout of Resene Half Rice Cake.

One of the most striking features of the redesigned HDU is the use of brightly coloured floor vinyl inlays that not only delineate bed locations but also aid in navigation for families and staff. The ceiling tiles above the beds were transformed into a canopy of a tree, incorporating calming and grounding nature imagery to provide an escape from the hospital setting. Recognising the prolonged stays of some patients, the design aimed to offer a comforting and visually appealing outlook. 

The tree canopy panels on the ceiling create a calming escape for children, while the wooden floor grounds the room adding an extra connection to nature. Resene Half Rice Cake is used on the walls to brighten the space. 

Amy Land explains that the Starship Colour Guide served as a foundation, ensuring consistency throughout the hospital. Resene Half Rice Cake, a clean, fresh white with a hint of warmth, was chosen as the main colour for its versatility. This neutral backdrop perfectly complemented the vibrant floor inlays and captivating ceiling tiles. To maintain a low-stimulation environment in the HDU, subtle yet engaging colours were chosen for the walls, while more vibrant hues from the Starship colour guide were introduced in the corridor, infusing energy and aiding wayfinding.

Resene Seeker and Resene Fire Bush are used in the corridors to guide patients and families, while adding some colour and joy to the space. The surrounding walls are painted in Resene Half Rice Cake.

The choice of Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen was a strategic one, blending residential warmth with commercial durability and ease of cleaning. This system not only added to the visual appeal but also contributed to the overall functionality of the space, aligning with the project's dual focus on aesthetics and practicality.

As with many healthcare projects, the redesign of Starship Hospital's HDU posed numerous challenges, including the need to maintain essential healthcare services during the construction phase. Coordination with multiple stakeholders, including the Starship Foundation, ADHB user groups, Mana Whenua, hospitality operators, and the contractor, added complexity to the project.


Brightly colour floor vinyl brings added colour to this space, breaking through the usual stark white hospital settings. The neutral walls in Resene Half Rice Cake brighten the room and help to draw the eye to the tree canopied ceiling.

A fascinating aspect of this endeavour is the familial connection between Amy Land and the original designers of Starship Hospital. Amy's father, Geoff Land, designed the hospital 32 years ago, with her mother, Lesley, handling the interior design – both working for Stephenson & Turner at the time. Amy expresses her thrill of leaving her mark in the same institution, albeit in a smaller yet impactful way.

The transformation of Starship Hospital's Paediatric Intensive Care Unit stands as a testament to the power of thoughtful design in healthcare spaces. The strategic use of colour and design has not only enhanced the visual appeal of the unit but also contributed to creating a comforting and engaging environment for the young patients and their families. The project successfully marries functionality with aesthetics, ensuring that Starship Hospital remains a beacon of care and compassion for children in New Zealand.

Design: Amy Land, Chow Hill Architects

Printed canopy ceiling tile images: Lucy G

Images: Finesse Photography  

Published: 11 Mar 2024