Spine Wall - The Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Young People and the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Edinburgh

I was invited to create a design for the facade of the 188 metre long 'spine wall' that runs through the newly re-built Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Young People and Department of Clinical Neuroscience in Edinburgh. The Spine Wall forms a major work of art of scale that flows through the main hospital atrium unifying inside and out and providing a key orientation role for patients, visitors and staff. Three dimensional skin textures taken from staff and users of the hospital within each of the three services have been magnified to form abstract panels.  These have been arranged to form a composition that sometimes can be viewed with a singular identity and sometimes as a fragmented pattern. My intention was to turn the notion of the wall around, so that rather than the building being the container of people, the people are considered to be the building itself. I I considered skin to be the thin barrier that both contains us and communicates who we are to the outside world, totally familiar and strange at the same time. 

The Spine Wall project, along with numerous other artworks in the building was generously funded by Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity and Edinburgh Lothian Health Foundation for NHS Lothian.  The project was seamlessly managed by Ginkgo Projects ltd. The Ginkgo blog on the whole hospital project Beyond Walls is here. 

These images show a series of preparatory workshops with both children and staff from the hospitals. We investigated natural forms and patterns under microscopes and transferred the findings into thin moulded tablets made using Jesmonite to mimic the process to be undertaken on the wall itself.  

Images showing the development of the design and various test casts. Particular consideration was given to the effect of the lighting as the intensity of the shadows creates a dramatically different effect at different times of day.  This process was undertaken with KSLD (Kevan Shaw Lighting Design) in Edinburgh.

Images showing the CNC routed master panels and mould making with Reckli in Germany and the installation on site. 

The installation stretches outside, inside and back outisde with over 400 panels that had to match varying obstacles along the route.

Thank you for the incredible generosity of the funding bodies involved and the commitment to make this complex project happen from every individual. A very special thanks to Tom Littlewood and the team at Ginkgo Projects in navigating so many complex problems, large and microscopic, that appeared during its creation. Also a special thank you to the participants for taking part. 

Below are some warm comments by these bodies:

Roslyn Neely, CEO of ECHC, said, “ECHC is committed to improving the mental health and wellbeing of all children and young people and we are privileged to have jointly funded the Spine wall. Coming to the hospital can be a very stressful time for children, young people and their families so it was important to ensure that, from the moment they arrive, they know they are in a safe place where they will be supported and valued.”


Susan Grant, Tonic Arts Manager for Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation, said:

“It was a real privilege to co-commission the Spine Wall as part of the wider Art and Therapeutic Design Programme. Surroundings can have a huge impact on stress and anxiety, so including this pioneering enhancement programme as part of the new hospital build was hugely important.

From the start, Peter worked closely with staff and patients, encouraging participation and dialogue at every step. This resulted in a major design commission which is not only striking in scale and aesthetic, but one which staff and patients feel a real sense of ownership of and which gives a distinct identity to the hospital.

With Foundation funding, we were also able to support the enhancement of a range of interior and exterior spaces across the new Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, helping to improve arrival and wayfinding, enliven the hospital environment and tailor the design of spaces to reduce anxiety and depression. Working with Gingko Projects, we looked at a range of creative solutions which would inject warmth and character into stark clinical spaces and bring the space alive. Over 20 projects, involving 30 different artists and designers, were commissioned in collaboration with our staff and patient groups.

The programme really demonstrates the importance that NHS Lothian has placed on Arts in Healthcare, recognising the positive impacts of well-designed spaces on wellbeing; celebrating the humanity of the hospital and the community of people who use it every day.”


Michael Pearson, General Manager for Clinical Neurosciences, said:

“The 180m Spine Wall that stretches throughout the hospital really catches your eye as you walk in, then as you move through you find further unique spaces that give the building a personal, warm feel.  It is so nice to now see that building coming to life.”


Lindsay Gripton, Highly Specialised Clinical Physiologist (Neuro), said:

“Absolutely love the artwork in this wonderful new building. It’s made arriving at work in the morning a pleasure and given us such a boost as a team. We all have our particular favourites in terms of individual pieces of artwork. Huge congratulations to everyone involved.”

Radiographers Seonad Young and Zowie Mullen said:
“The artworks are a fantastic distraction, reflecting our past as well as our future.”