Health Care Environments as Smart Spaces

Allison Arieff, formerly of Dwell and now writer of Living Design at the New York Times, has written this week about the massive design shortcomings of modern health care facilities. She says:

"A recent eight-year study at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, concluded that “hospitals are built catastrophes, anonymous institutional complexes run by vast bureaucracies, and totally unfit for the purpose they have been designed for.” The study recommended radical solutions, like shopping-mall-inspired models for future healthcare facilities and the creation of wellness centers (much like ancient public baths). More specifically, the study advocates things like “dayrooms that invite” (rooms in patient wings that serve as centers of community activity, featuring things like morning coffee, fireplaces and a piano — can you imagine?); cafes that serve hospital employees as well as the neighborhood; open-air courtyards; light-filled corridors that encourage socialization and, most importantly, are easy to navigate. (The findings from this project are gathered together in the smartly written and beautifully designed book, “The Architecture of Hospitals.”)

Arieff is talking about the urgent need to look at health care environments from a physical design perspective, but what she doesn't talk about is how technology can be used positively in this design. If there was ever an environment that calls our for an appropriate use of "smartness" in a service environment, it is healthcare. We are seeing new examples of wireless intelligence being applied to areas such as assisted living facilities, but wiring up a whole hospital and deploying tagging and sensor technology is still in its infancy, and applications directed beyond the doctor or patient to the families and loved ones of those being cared for are still a long way off (what about a system that lets a patient know how many people are there to care for them as indicated by icons or color changes in the room?). Keep watching this space because we have a lot more to say, and measure, about how smartness is being applied for social benefit and value.

For more on hospital design, Mark Vanderbeeken has assembled some good links at