A Design That Gets Teens Talking: FWAYAOC

Being a teen—making the transition from childhood into adulthood—a time in life characterized by emotional and physical change and uncertainty. For teens and young adults with cancer, it is even more so.

Located in Fort Worth, Texas, within Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center, the Fort Worth Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Coalition unit (FWAYAOC) is among the first community-supported AYA oncology inpatient units in the United States, and sets a new benchmark for AYA facilities around the world. Designed by HKS, FWAYAOC offers young adults diagnosed with cancer, ages 18 to 29, comprehensive, life-enhancing support, age-relevant resources and specialized care designed to improve their lives before, during and after cancer.

Interior designer Corrine Kipp, a key member of the FWAYA design team shares more about how the project came to be, and why it’s so meaningful to the people who use it.

Q: Why is there increasing attention around cancer treatment for teens and young adults?

CK: When FWAYAOC first opened, Dr. Karen Albritton, FWAYA’s Medical Director, began hearing from her medical staff and support people that treating this demographic was difficult because their needs are so different. The thing is:  the needs weren’t new. They had always been there, but they simply hadn’t been as visible because there wasn’t a place where AYA’s were the sole focus for cancer treatment. Now that we have a unit with dedicated staff, we are learning much more about the unique needs of AYA patients.

Q: Can you explain what the unique needs of AYA patients are? How are AYA’s different from pediatric patients, or adults?

CK: Our design for FWAYA focuses on fostering social interaction, supporting visits from friends and family, and helping patients maintain social and academic development while undergoing cancer treatment. To do this, we envisioned a welcoming, comfortable place for visitors to spend time with patients. And it had to have a youthful vibe unique to teens and young adults—not the feel of a pediatric unit, or the quiet of an adult unit.

To draw patients out of their rooms, key design elements were pivotal. For example, the central table had to be a place that welcomed people to play puzzles, cards, or games together. The message board is another important place. You can see patients leaving each other messages there, to encourage one another. It’s incredibly uplifting.

One of the most meaningful concepts in the design was that of a cairn. A cairn is a stack of rocks built on trails by climbers who wish to leave evidence of their journey, and provide future travelers with a path marker. For me, this concept was the main driver behind our work. It informed everything—from the ceiling elements, to the artwork and even the patterns in the upholstery.

Q: How did this project impact you personally, as a designer? How did it impact your design moving forward?

CK: As a designer, it’s important to tell the story of the patient. We were especially successful in doing this for the FWAYA. A year after construction, the staff and patients continue to tell the story of the cairn and how it relates to AYAs. Staff even give each patient their own cairn trinket when they leave. Knowing how deeply a design concept can resonate with patients, doctors and staff encourages me to continue to find ways to tell the patient’s story through design.