The new Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan is a cutting-edge outpatient facility for patients requiring intense daily treatments. The first stop for every visit is the front desk, where a welcome experience is carefully choreographed. Our challenge was to help create a “positive distraction” moment for patients, family members and caregivers.
The project had to represent “cutting edge” like the facility itself. It had to cater both to newcomers and those who must see it many times over. It had to be universally uplifting, and avoid any negative symbolism. And it had to give a moment of positivity for patients struggling with life-threatening conditions.
The digital installations for the new David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care are designed around the feelings and needs of patients and caregivers.
The main lobby hosts the welcome wall, Dreams in Fiber Optic Wood, featuring images in motion that glow directly through the wood of the building. Inspired by nature, the dreams include koi fish, butterflies, flowers and bonsai trees, all constantly changing with the seasons.
The effect is deliberately meditative and atmospheric so that it can be viewed for one minute or one hundred. Because light passes through thousands of actual tiny holes in the wood, a special approach was required to create the original animated sequences.
Recent science has clinically proven that artistic and nature-based experiences (in medical language, “positive distractions”) can speed healing and improve outcomes. Random natural motion -- like what is found in water, wind, foliage, animal life, and the motion of light -- has been demonstrated to hold near-universal appeal for patients in medical contexts.
This installation was made to magically create natural motion, fashioned after known phenomena, through the unique medium of fiber optic wood. These naturalistic “dreams” are beamed continuously through millions of short optic fibers precisely machined into exact alignment across multiple manufactured panels. The effect of the fiber optic wood is to make a solid wood wall become momentarily transparent when light is applied to it from behind. Viewers cannot tell where the images are coming from, or how they work, which brings an element of delight that helps to engineer the moment of positive distraction.
The dreams gently alternate, change and morph seasonally, matching pace with the natural rhythm of the actual periods of spring, summer, fall and winter immediately outside. The custom artwork deliberately depicts traditional elements of tranquility: bonsai, butterflies, lotus, and koi.
The client observed that the digital experiences increased patient connections. Patients gravitate to the digital experience when passing time, in-patients return to the installations over course of treatment, nature sounds enhance the overall environment, and there are anecdotes about increased laughter (especially from children).