Can’t we make hospitals more beautiful?

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With the recent announcement that Apple Inc. and a collection of the worlds leading tech companies such as HP and Oracle are building a hospital worth $2 billion at the Stanford campus (NB: The prestigious Medicine 2.0 congress takes place there) I am thrilled to put our thoughts into these words. From the first day I stepped into a hospital when I was a medical student up until today, I could never satiate my hunger for and love of hospital architecture. It thus strikes me all the more that almost every hospital I’ve been to (from Mount Sinai to Charité or the General Hospital in Vienna) was ugly.

No matter how much state of the art medicine is being practiced in these hospitals, how many nobel prize winners had been trained there and if it’s funded by public or private institutions, in none of them I wanted to stay for longer than it absolutely took. Now, the word “hospital” derives from the latin term “hospitalis” which means “of a guest or host”. The hospital is a place where the sick and poor are being helped and treated – fair enough. But in the 21st century I see absolutely no reason why hospitals look the way they look these days.

A “modern” hospital rarely has large windows, lots of plants, intelligent and indirect lighting or has ever worked with “olfactory designers”. Isn’t it supposed to be a place where people become healthy again? Both from a plethora of research and from our personal experiences we know, that the environment we live in, is crucially linked to our happiness and health. I always believed that in a hospital everybody tries everything to make the patient healthy again – and they (doctors, nurses, etc.) DO, but architectes and interior designers DO NOT and that’s a huge problem. Architecture has evolved throughout the years and the (commercial and residential) houses we usually admire, reflect this fact. Yet why has this trend not arrived at hospitals? There are several reasons a proponent of the current architectural hospital situation might suggest to me that make such developments impossible, but I really thought a lot about this and I can’t think of a single reason why it shouldn’t be that (modern) way.

Hygiene? Big windows and plants won’t make a hospital less hygenic.

Money? In Europe medicine is a matter of the government. In the US it’s mostly regulated by companies. In neither parts of the world I’ve seen a hospital only close to New York’s IAC building.

Need? I am not aware of any scientific literature, but from common sense alone I argue that a more beautiful, a more open, a brighter, a better smelling and shinier hospital is for the better for people working in it and for people being treated there.

So what’s the reason? Well it just might be a very simple one. Medicine and healthcare is not sexy enough. Although it attracts more and more MBA graduates, it is still a subject of sadness and death. Nobody likes hospitals and nobody wants to be in them (from a patient side). But why should this be different from a physician side? Don’t you ever envy your college friends who work in these fancy high-ceiling work spaces with their Macs, couches and wide-open cafes? Well, I did and that has been one of the reasons why I didn’t want to be a physician anymore. I couldn’t imagine myself working in such a place for the rest of my life.

I think we can do better and the “Apple hospital” is something to start at. If I was an aspiring architect, I’d start designing hospitals and not hotels. They benefit society, they are ugly and nobody talks about it. Things need to change.

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