The architecture of hospitals and health care facilities has evolved throughout the years, to the point where it is currently almost unrecognisable when compared to traditional hospital spaces.
Gone are the institutional spaces of the not-too-distant past, leaving in their place modern buildings that aim to exude warmth and comfort, while still maintaining unseen clinical sterility where necessary.
The sudden change of aesthetic can be attributed largely to one key factor: healing.
A growing amount of information from Dr. Esther Sternberg and other health professionals indicates that spaces can be designed in order to encourage healing – spaces that Sternberg has aptly named ‘healing spaces’.
These ideas are becoming commonly accepted and are strongly influencing the way that the industry designs on a global scale.
After much consideration, a design proposal by Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron has been chosen for the Kinderspital Zurich, a brand new world class children’s hospital and research facility in the Swiss city. What makes the proposal stand out is its nod towards the principles of ‘healing spaces’, including plans to use an abundance of natural light, large garden areas including a green roof, and the use local, commonly-used materials to create what the designers call a ‘domestic atmosphere’.
The hospital as a whole will be split into two separate buildings – the Children’s Hospital and the Centre for Teaching and Research. The former building is three storeys high and rectangular in shape, while the latter stretches six storeys tall and is round.
While the two buildings are different in size, shape and function, they will both feature the same key design elements and perhaps the same green elements.
One of these elements is the proposed use of large interior courtyards, which will perform a dual function. First, they will encourage healing and tranquility by featuring an abundance of greenery. This will reconnect both patients and staff to the natural environment, which has proven to positively affect healing in the former and relieve stress in the latter. Second, they will allow for the infiltration of natural light even in the most central parts of the buildings, which means less reliance on electric lighting and which will also create of an atmosphere that feels less sterile and more domestic.
The architectural choice to use local wood products on both the interior and exterior surfaces will add to the hospital’s home-like feel.
“Wood is the predominant material of the facades and interiors, creating a more domestic atmosphere for children, their parents and hospital staff,” say the architects. “The use of wood also echoes the rural surroundings of the Lengg district.”
Not only is the use of locally-sourced wood a more sustainable option for the development of the building, but it also drastically reduces the traditional hospital atmosphere, which can be especially scary for children.
All patients are especially vulnerable while in the hospital system, but perhaps none more so than children. By creating a space that allows its patients to feel comfortable and at home, the hospital designers will encourage healing in the most holistic sense.