Working with Hummingbird House

Helping Hummingbird House take flight.

Surroundings has helped create a place where kids can live out their days as kids, families can reconnect and precious memories can be made.

It’s a sad fact of life that not every child makes it to adulthood. And for many kids facing life-limiting illness, their final days are spent in hospitals and clinical adult environments unsuitable to their needs.

That’s why Surroundings was commissioned by Queensland Kids, the charity behind Queensland’s first children’s hospice, Hummingbird House, to connect with the project’s many user groups and gain insight into the functional and emotional needs of the hospice community.

Vision & values

Together with Queensland Kids and Brisbane-based architects Thomson Adsett, we hosted a series of workshops in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney – bringing together designers and stakeholders to start a conversation. It was about formulating ideas that could form the foundations of a community. 

In one of our first exercises, we asked the founders to give us a shortlist of words that embodied Hummingbird House’s vision and values. Other participants were then invited to give us their own interpretations of these words, and to define what they believed were the project’s core concepts. 

This ‘ice-breaker’ activity was designed to connect everyone around a shared set of values and provide a strong base for discussions to come.

Discover, listen & learn

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from our background as architects and designers, it’s this: never second-guess what the client wants. 

With a highly specialised project such as this, it’s important to talk to the people with the best insights into creating an ideal space – the end users. Nobody knows an environment better than the people who live in it. 

We started the process with a workshop of Brisbane Clinicians, which included social workers, occupational therapists, hospice managers, nurses and oncology support. This was followed up by a Family Workshop that involved bereaved families and parents of kids currently in care with a life-limiting illness.

Research, learn & collaborate

We then visited the only other two children’s hospices in Australia – Bear Cottage in Sydney, and Very Special Kids in Victoria – to learn from their experience and wisdom, and build on their best practices for Queensland.

Innovate & lead change

Finally, we ran two specialist ‘end of life’ workshops titled Making Space: a conversation about saying goodbye – where we met with specialist clinicians and providers, as well as an intimate session with a group of parents. This helped us create a space and philosophy of care that reflected the needs of families when death was imminent or had just occurred.

A snapshot of our workshops

The true impact of our workshops is intangible; the legacy is in the bonds formed within the community that will inhabit and grow at Hummingbird House. But there have been many ways in which the insights and learnings have helped shape the architects’ final design. 

Sensory exercises

We discovered that sick children and their families spent much of their time indoors, often in clinical environments that were disconnected from the senses of nature. In designing Hummingbird House, it would have been easy to play it safe and be clinical; but that would be to lose the core values of respite, care and connection.

So we created a card sort called Senses, which invited users to select their favourite ways to connect with nature and each other – such as natural light, greenery, hugs and shared meals. This exercise unearthed a number of sensory experiences that were important to the children and their families.

As a result of the workshops, the architects incorporated an open courtyard in the centre of the building – connecting the kids’ rooms to the outside world. Skylights were also installed above their beds to let in natural light and even a wheelchair-friendly treehouse was built.

Bath time

Human centred design is about creating space that reflects the wants and needs of the people living in it. We learnt that the act of bathing kids was a treasured moment for many families; a chance to soothe, calm and connect with loved ones. So in another example of putting the findings into practice, Thomson Adsett extended the main bathroom design to include an alcove at the entrance, where families could gather together.

“I have been taken aback by the profound impact it has had on people who have participated.” 

Gabrielle Quilliam, co-founder, Queensland Kids

Our work for Hummingbird House has helped bridge the gap between what is designed and how a space is inhabited. Given the nature of the brief, it was a responsibility we felt honoured to accept. And perhaps our greatest achievement has been the creation of a wonderful space that, despite its function, celebrates living.