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Our workstreams ‘Dream, Build, Heal’ are gathering pace and as they do so, creating much opportunity for reflection. ‘Dream’ is gathering narrative, argument and case
Studies to answer the question ‘What makes a good healthcare building?’.

The launch webinar – open to all, settled on the importance of brief development, engagement with stakeholders including but not exclusively clinical perspectives and the art (or is it a science) of healthcare planning.

I come from the perspective of 20 years as a clinician followed by 20 years as a client healthcare planner and development director. And for me it always comes back to the brief. I have heard, too many times to mention, that clients can’t write good briefs and this part of the process (RIBA Stage 1) ends up in the hands of the designers themselves. So, they write the brief and respond to it.

The briefs are often technical and related specifically to standards to be adhered to and derogations that would be acceptable, flows (how it works) and the numbers of different types of spaces required. What is frequently missing is how must the building feel to be in; how must it respond to the emotion, dignity and wellbeing of the building users.

And this is where the stakeholders come in. Not the Executive of the organisation but the front of house staff and the patients and public users. And gathering data from these sources is time consuming, specialist and requires healthcare planners at the top of their game. The workshops must be creative and flexible to elicit outputs that link directly back to the senses and emotions, desires and dreams for future users.

In my experience this is activity best supported by artists and arts specialists rather than communication teams. It also needs to be the starting point of the process, not mid way and especially not at the end.

So, what if every brief included patient and staff diaries (One day in the life of…)? We did this for the RNOH Stanmore Building. They told us about long stays, beautiful grounds they couldn’t access and the need for children to be recognised whether as patients or visitors. The result is a scheme with great access to gardens for the children and young people, an activity centre in the main atrium and a strong presence of biophilia in the building.

The Italian Hospital Project (now the award winning Sight & Sound Centre) at GOSH went one step further. The very first briefing workshop was with a number of visual or hearing impaired young people and their families. ‘If we gave you the building for your services how do you want it to feel’ they were asked. ‘Like a grand house on the square was their answer. Not like a hospital because we are not ill.’ So that is what they worked towards including choosing very specific art works related to every day household objects by Lubna Chowdhary and their own take on Victorian floor tiles and the reinstatement of a Victorian fireplace.

The experience of developing exciting, stimulating and inspiring briefs that encourage designers towards imaginative responses led me down the path of the 3 ‘C’s: Context (the organisation, constraints and the opportunity); content (the schedule of accommodation) and concept – the stakeholder bit, the vision for what could be and the bit that results in beautiful spaces for human beings to occupy at the worst times of their lives.

And then I’d sit back and watch the brilliance of design professionals unleash.

Other projects are available by the way:

  • Melbourne Children’s Hospital with its meerkats and aquarium
  • Alder Hey Children’s Hospital – which appears remarkably like a sketch produced by a patient
  • Princess Maxima Children’s Cancer Centre, Utrecht, where the right to play has driven the design solution
  • All the Maggie’s Centres where the kitchen table is central to design as a place to meet and talk
  • The Guy’s Cancer Centre which turned the traditional location for radiotherapy on its head

Stephanie Williamson, AfH co-chair


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