The view from a children’s hospital in London used to be pretty bad: As the hospital goes through renovations, one new wing is stuck looking out into an awkward space next to a rundown older building that won’t be demolished for 15 years. When the hospital searched for a solution, architects at Studioweave proposed an installation that turned the building’s jumble of pipes into a 10-story "lullaby factory" that could entertain the children inside.
Since the tall space was narrow and strangely shaped, the designers realized they couldn’t really cover up the older building; it would block too much light. Instead of hiding anything, they decided to celebrate the building’s existing quirks.
“There was a huge amount of pipework there,” says Maria Smith, one of the firm’s directors. “We sort of liked the way it seemed sort of mysterious as to which pipes were working and what were they really doing. We wanted to add something to make that feeling seem magical.”
After noticing that the pipes looked a little like some sort of fantastical factory, the designers decided they could turn them into something that seemed like a manufacturing plant for lullabies. “It seemed like it was conceivable—wild, but conceivable—that this sort of factory might be useful to a children’s hospital,” Smith says.
They attached giant “clarinet keys” to a long black pipe, and added attachments shaped like phonograph horns to walls and other pipes. Everything was made from standard plumbing materials.
“It’s not always clear what’s part of the Lullaby Factory and what’s working pipework. That was always quite important,” Smith explains. “Everything felt like it became part of the Lullaby Factory.”
It wasn't easy to build, since the space is completely enclosed and full of odd angles. The team had to build huge scaffolding towers to reach the facades, and had to be prepared to stop work at any time if surgeons inside were in the middle of a procedure. "The project kind of had two extremes," says Smith. "On the one hand, it’s a complete Roald Dahl fantasy kind of thing, and on the other hand, the pragmatics of it were really complex."
As the designers worked, they partnered with a composer who wrote the lullabies for the installation. "Throughout the design process, we were always thinking about whether it looked like it might sound, and whether it sounded like it looked," says Smith.
The installation can't actually make any sounds directly, since there are operating rooms facing the space that need to stay quiet. But children can lean into special "listening horns" on a balcony, or tune the in-patient radio to the lullaby station. And when they look out the window now, there's something a little more interesting to see.