Hospitals present a complex design challenge. Due to scale and complexity, their design and construction can be a slow process and hospitals opening now have been in the planning since long before the pandemic began. Nevertheless, recent examples show the beginning of a move that has only gathered pace, towards hospitals that foreground a connection with nature, natural light, comforting materials and healthy acoustics as fundamental to care and healing, as well as spatial structures that prioritise interaction between departments and instinctive way-finding.
One of the Danish ‘super hospitals’, due to open in 2024, New North Zealand Hospital by Herzog & de Meuron is designed around two spatial hooks – the desire for a vast central garden, alongside short internal connections between critical spaces to ‘foster exchange between staff and patients’. The busier and more critical a department, the more central it is within the building’s plan, creating a network of spaces that not only suits a user’s treatment journey, but also facilitates smooth backstage operations for all the medical workers, facilities and servicing.
Key to Herzog & de Meuron’s design is providing a connection to the natural environment surrounding the hospital, not only as a place-making strategy but as a powerful tool of recuperation. UK researchers Centric Lab use neuroscience and geospatial data to consider connections between place and health. For their Urban Health Council project they have produced a report, ‘Nature as Healthcare’, seeking to analyse the role of nature in urban spaces beyond the aesthetic and towards the value of its proximity to our lives, working towards a symbiotic relationship where humans and nature ‘are equally dependent on and mutually benefiting from each other’.
Cleanliness is of course critical to healthcare design, and has been since Florence Nightingale’s 1859 text, Notes on Nursing. Glass and stainless steel will always remain within healthcare environments, but not all surfaces have to be wipe-clean to be clean. Christopher Shaw, Chair of Architects for Health and founder of Medical Architecture, advises, ‘It’s the last 2mm which are important – it’s what you touch, see, and to some degree smell. This matters. It affects physiology (stress), psychology (behaviour), communication (social interaction) and in a clinical setting, the biology (pathogens).’