World Architecture Festival 2012: architects Kristen Whittle and Ron Billard explain how meerkats, fish and open-plan offices for consultants helped provide better care for sick children at the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, the winner in the health category at the World Architecture Festival.

Billard Leece Partnership and Bates Smart collaborated on the design of the hospital, which replaces an existing facility, and the architects describe their decision to remove private rooms from the wards as "one of the most transformational things" they did with the new building. "By interacting with other professionals, [the doctors] are looking at solving problems in a holistic way," says Billard.

The pair also describe the challenges of redesigning a "much-loved institution." The new building centres around a six-storey atrium containing grass-like green spaces, a meerkat enclosure and an aquarium. Billard explains how these devices were intended to create spaces that are "relaxing, not stressful" for children. "Hospitals can be pretty scary places," he says.

Rooms in the each of the wards offer views over the gardens and courtyards. "The amount of beds in this hospital is more or less the same as the existing facility, so even though it is a much bigger building, there is only the same amount of beds, says Whittle. "The idea is not to deal with vast quantities of kids, but more become a specialist model for only the acute problems."

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