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Studio care architecture

Studio Care Architecture
What is a healing environment?

Tutors: Gideon Boie
Academic Year 2021-2022, Semester 1, campus Ghent
Engagement: Mediating tactics

What is a healing environment? In an essay discussing the Maggies Cancer Care Centres, architecture historian Charles Jencks describes how, during an interview on BBC radio, he was embarrassed by precisely this question. After the death of his wife, Jencks is involved in the Maggie’s foundation, setting up care centres designed by starchitects, such as Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and others.

Charles Jencks reacted stoically. His position was that even if architecture had a positive impact, it is still virtually impossible to verify. The scepticism is understandable, as it would be rather presumptuous to proclaim that architecture had any influence in the face of death. At times of pain and sorrow, a term such as ‘healing environment’ can sound very cheap.

Jencks then describes how, in the same interview, he was contradicted by a National Health doctor who was wholeheartedly committed to iconic architecture. This doctor saw the importance of the exceptional quality of Maggie’s Centres not in any supposed healing powers, but in a pleasant working environment. His position was that care staff who feel good provide better care to those in need.

In this way, the impact of care architecture comes from an unexpected angle. The architecture in the first place generates a psychological effect on the staff. In this regard, the doctor appears to be the perfect pupil of postmodernism. What is more important is that the subject of care architecture is expanded. The doctor shifted the focus of the notion of the ‘healing environment’ from the patient to the staff.

Jencks situates the second psychological effect of the architecture of Maggie’s Centres in what is described as the Hawthorne Effect. The staff do not feel better as a result of a direct causality between form or colour and human behaviour, but because they were for the first time asked by the management what high-quality space for care in the workplace actually means.

This shifts the discussion on care architecture for the second time. Apart from the design of a specific space, a healing environment is at least as much a matter of the thoroughness of the design process. The design of hospitals is all too often viewed as a technocratic application to space of a static view of care. By contrast, Maggie’s Centres show how architecture becomes a reality in its profound commitment to its users.

The question that shocked Charles Jencks so deeply will guide the studio in the academic year 2021-2022. Topic is the architecture for health care in its different aspects, from the large scale of the care campus to the typology of the bed house and the design of hospital furniture. The real challenge however is to understand how architectural quality is related to the idea of healing – or not.

The research question will be developed in dialogue with ongoing design processes in the field of psychiatric care, elderly care and care for people with disabilities. Design intelligence – a term coined by Michael Speaks – will be constructed through the combination of case studies, text reading and engagement with real life people living and working in care facilities.

The project brief is an excerpt from an article published by DOMUS: https://www.domusweb.it/en/opinion/2018/12/03/did-someone-mention-a-healing-environment.html

Read more about care architecture: https://www.bavo.biz/

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