As patients, staff and community move their way up and down the new Acute Services Building, large-scale artworks found in every department and inpatient unit celebrate the environment and stories of the local area. UNSW Art, Design & Architecture’s Associate Professor Emma Robertson is one of four leading artists commissioned to produce unique artwork for the hospital’s internal spaces. Her work is featured on the level 8 Clinical Neurosciences and Acute Stroke floor and reflects the local region’s native flora.

Drawn with acrylic paint, pencils and pens, she created original images of endangered plant species to encourage engagement with ecology and the environment, through a meditative reflection on beauty, loss and memory.  A/Prof Robertson is fascinated by the active role that sleep and memory plays in generative creativity. Recent studies have shown that drawing something on paper, even a simple diagram, can help the brain visualise and then remember important information.

"The relationship between our minds and the physical way that anxiety and stress impacts our bodies inspired me to integrate plants, trees and other 'soft fascinations of nature' into the new building’s proposal," A/Prof Robertson said.

She had two years to research, plan and produce her art, responding to a brief that encompassed the particular characteristics of patients and visitors as well as the building’s interior design features and the redevelopment’s arts and culture strategy. She worked closely with nursing and other hospital staff to refine her approach throughout the design process, defining what would visually calm and help the patients, visitors and staff cope in a sometimes stressful environment.

"Their feedback was very important in refining the images as I was developing them. I submitted interim reports with test drawings, and different staff guided the process at various stages. I was asked not to use strong patterns, abstract images, bright colours or anything that could be interpreted as medical," she reflected.

"I wanted to create subtle layers in the drawing, and to integrate a sense of sky and soft sea mist into different drawings, so that the final walls could be viewed by patients over different periods of time. I integrated small details into the large-scale compositions and Randwick’s beautiful natural environments, including the endangered Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub, were important influences."

During the COVID lockdown, A/Prof Robertson relied on examples closer to home to inspire her design.

"We are fortunate to have a Port Jackson Fig tree growing in our back garden, as I draw from life and needed original sources. Looking up into the tree canopy gave me the idea for the composition for the long Public Corridor on Level 8.  Observing and drawing plants gave me a sense of calm during an otherwise difficult time, and I feel that came through in the final works," she said.

A/Prof Robertson admitted she was on a learning curve as the scope of the project was bigger than anything she had done before, and learning to read complex building plans and working to scale was initially challenging. But she had great support from the hospital and redevelopment team throughout the project.

"I felt quite emotional when I arrived at the hospital to see the final installation, and I loved seeing the other artists wonderful works on other levels too. It was an honour to be involved and to contribute, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to bring art and nature onto the walls of the Acute Services Building."

The artwork was commissioned by the Randwick Campus Redevelopment as part of its Arts and Culture Strategy. The strategy’s key themes include biophilic design – the concept of bringing the outside environment in, patient and staff wellbeing and supporting clinical models of care from point of arrival to point of departure. A/Prof Robertson incorporated these three themes into her artwork.

"I hope that the patients and their families see the beauty and stillness we can experience in nature reflected in the work on the walls. When you look out of the windows up on Level 8 you can see the sky and trees that inspired that work, so the art mirrors the natural environment outside and beyond the hospital," A/Prof Robertson said.

The new artworks are situated in key spaces throughout the hospital including reception areas, staff stations, public lift lobbies, corridors and patient lounges, and most are in the form of full wall vinyl graphics, known as ‘envirographics’.

Prince of Wales Hospital services started moving to the new Acute Services Building in March 2023. Learn more about the Randwick Campus Redevelopment.

A/Prof Emma Robertson and her work in the Acute Services Building UNSW
Detail drawing of artwork featured in the Acute Services Building Photo: Emma Robertson
A/Prof Emma Robertson (right) worked closely with Karen Burton from the Randwick Campus Redevelopment Photo: supplied