Saturday, March 28, 2009
I was struck by an article in the February 2009 issue of the trade publication Healthcare Design, titled "Toward a New Vocabulary For Healthcare Design." It in, the authors assert that the recent trend of how we make healthcare buildings look may not be entirely appropriate. They write, "Historically, hopsital design trends appear to parallel cultural attitudes toward sickness and death. In today's youth- and health-oriented U.S. society, where many people seem to believe they will never grow old or become ill, this type of thinking is coincident with the rise of spa-like or five-star hospital design. But should a hospital look like a spa? people go to high-end hotels to escape their problems; they go to hospitals to face their problems. As architects, should we question whether our designes deny the real purpose of hospitals--and perhaps even subvert that purpose?"
The authors, Mark Patterson and Anne Bilsbarrow, both architects with the Phoenix-basedhealthcare design firm SmithGroup, make an extraordinary point--one which I've never considered before. While the article showcases a couple of SmithGroup's projects (typical of articles written in Healthcare Design), it does its readers in Da Biz a favor by remindin gus that not all medical gas outlets and medical technology has to be hidden away behind wood-looking cabinets and fake picture frames like the mansion in "Clue." Sometimes, seeing that technology can be a little bit comforting to patients--in the words of The Little River Band, hang on, help is on the way. Rather than looking to distracting spaces like spas and hotels, the authors suggest looking to spaces like churches and courthouses, places where serious things happen, appropriate materials are used (both in terms of how they look and how easy they are to maintain), and respect is paid to all the activity there.
This article strikes me first of all because it never occurred to me that turning a medical facility ino a scrubbable version of Disneyland might not be the best way to handle what goes on there. It also strikes me because so many nurses I work with in user group meetings ask for distractions--they love the wood-look cabinets, the gases behind the picture frame, the floor that looks less like grody sheet vinyl and more like wood plank flooring. They love the idea of making a room look less like a hospital. The reason I get this reaction from doctors and nurses is that many of them have worked in or at least trained in one of those bathroom-institutional type hospitals, and they're depressing to say the least. They want to work somewhere that's less oppressive-feeling and might actually inspire them to save a life or two.
Perhaps, though, we all--nurses, doctors, architects, patients, families--are products of a time in which almost weekly there is a new medical innovation that extends or improves life and/or health. And we want our spaces to reflect this, even our healing spaces. Yet all of these innovations will not wipe out the inevitability of our own ceasing to exist on this plane. We will all pass at some point--quickly on the 3rd green of a golf course, like my dad, or slowly in a hospital like my dad's mother. Perhaps the balancing act we must seek as healthcare architects is that of providing some necessary distractions while also acknowledging and accepting the realities that happen there.
Posted by Mile High Pixie at 11:52 AM