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A Dochitect’s Story

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As an architect, I joined the profession because of a desire to improve the environments in which people live and work. This ambition is accentuated in the area of hospital design where medical planners have the opportunity to design spaces in which people experience the most joyous of occasions, as well as times of extreme suffering and distress. Alongside design, medicine had always appealed to me as a humanistic field and offered an opportunity to help people in the most vital aspect of their lives—their health.

Despite the inclusion of clinicians into the design and construction process, there can remain some disconnect between the initial vision of those who design the hospital and final clinical use of the space. This dichotomy is perhaps best expressed by the architect Louis Kahn, who said: “Once challenged, the architect will find completely new shapes and means to produce the hospital, but he cannot know what the doctor knows.”

Throughout my medical school years and now during my residency training I maintain two notebooks in my white coat pocket; one for the medical facts, a common finding amongst trainees, and the other for design notes and sketches. These books represent my intent to bridge the gap between architecture and medicine through the field of healthcare design.

My hybrid career began as an undergraduate architecture student, with the realization that within architectural practice there existed a subspecialty of hospital design. I can recall the first time I entered a hospital building and did not experience that uneasy sensation in the depths of my gut that most feel as they enter such an unfamiliar environment. I immediately felt at ease in the space, inspired by what I saw and determined to understand this effect of wellness initiated by the design of my surroundings. My career direction changed course that day. The hospital was the Paimio Sanatorium, built in the early 1930s in Finland, designed by Alvar Aalto. Aalto not only designed the hospital with the tuberculosis patient as the primary inspiration, but expanded his architectural solutions beyond the physical layout of the building itself. For example, Aalto believed that each patient should have his own washbasin and designed angled faucets to prevent noise and splashing; the Paimio Chair was designed to optimize the best position for the sitting tuberculosis patient to breathe.

Paimio Model

Read more about the Paimio Sanatorium design in my article entitled Humanizing the Hospital: Design Lessons from a Finnish Sanatorium.

As I went on to tour other facilities, I found myself intrigued by the biological sciences and the humanistic work that took place within hospitals, prompting me to pursue the study of medicine. Interestingly, as I began to work in health care settings as a medical student, I would often see design teams touring while I was busy rounding with the physicians and I found myself reflecting on my design experiences. I suppose I have never been able to put both feet into the same bucket, so to speak.

I believe that hybrid professionals can provide integrated solutions which cross disciplines in new ways. By combining my background in hospital architecture with my medical education, I am committed to developing multidisciplinary approaches to improving the quality and delivery of health care.

Read more about Dr. Diana Anderson and her work in medicine and architecture at her website, Dochitect, which contains the original of this post.

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