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Can architecture help create a better way to die?

Alison Killing reflects on the possibility of using architecture to radically modify hospitals to offer dying patients a better environment.

Photo of Chiara Pineschi
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Alison Killing is an architect. She argues that death is a topic people find uncomfortable, thus they do not talk about it, thus they do not question the society's approach to death. But people are actually really open to changing things if they're given the chance to talk about them. She says this because she wants to focus on hospitals:  everyone knows those fluorescent lights and the endless corridors and those rows of uncomfortable chairs. It seems that people have forgotten that hospitals might as well be built beautiful. Architecture could indeed support a good death by discarding the traditional hospital projects and creating instead beautiful hospitals.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Have we forgotten that hospitals can also be beautiful spaces?

This inspired (1)

Learning from analogy


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Photo of Morgan Meinel

Chiara, thank you so much for your contribution!

Environment and aesthetic design make such a remarkable difference in a hospital setting, so I'm glad you posted about this! Wouldn't this be a fantastic project for the architects out there? Are there any design or architecture firms out there considering this along with Alison? To rebuild and restructure the hospital setting so that it is more comfortable, inviting, and soothing for the patients and families would be incredibly beneficial.

We seek to do this on our Palliative Care Unit at Mount Sinai Medical Center in NYC. Many of our patients and their families find a place of sanctuary on our unit amidst the chaos of the hospital because we make the intentional effort to create a peaceful and safe place for them.  

Even considering this on a smaller scale - placing paintings in each of the patients rooms, investing in more comfortable chairs, better lighting, etc. can be so therapeutic!

Thank you so much for this wonderful and thought provoking contribution!

Photo of Helen Da Silva

Hi Morgan!
I 100% agree!  I would love to see the use of design in making hospitals more comfortable, inviting and soothing. 

My mom was hospitalized for 3 weeks this past March.  I was with her every day.  My senses were assaulted with unpleasant odours and a cacophony of beeps and wails.   It was very emotionally exhausting.  Can you imagine what the patients must endure?   I tried to make my mom as comfortable as possible. 

Can we design more comfortable, inviting, soothing hospitals ~ Yes!  The Europeans have.  We need to incorporate  the European hospital design philosophy here in North America ~ my dream for the future!  It is possible.

Best to you Morgan!
Helen :)

Photo of Chiara Pineschi

Hello Morgan,
thanks for your comment and for bringing your experience as well. Unfortunately, I have no idea whether there are indeed such projects running apart from the architect's one of the TED Talk. I actually did not know how one could raise awareness of the urgency of rebuilding and reimagining hospitals - Openideo gave me the possibility! And you are absolutely right in saying that just small touches - paintings, better lights, would greatly affect the patients' lives. 
All the best, have a nice day!

Photo of Morgan Meinel

Helen, thank you for sharing this! Your Mom was very fortunate to have you looking after her in the hospital - it can be so overwhelming. I am really looking forward to deepening my exploration of hospital aesthetics and environment - I will definitely take a look at the European hospital design philosophy! Thanks for your thoughtful response and post, as always! and thank you for your optimism! It's refreshing :)

Chiara, thank you for this insightful post! I'm so glad that you feel inspired by openIDEO's challenge! Being involved in this challenge has been so incredibly thought provoking for me. There are so many fantastic ideas arising from it - this one included! Have a great day and thanks again for sharing your inspiration! 

Photo of Cielo Jimenez

I belive it can, I had the priviledge to work at a beutiful Hospice house, specifically designed for that purpose. Patients and family members alike often mentioned the difference that this setting made (practically and emotionally) during their end of life experience. 
Cielo Jimenez, MFT intern.

Photo of Helen Da Silva

Hi Chiara
It's a pleasure to meet you and  thank you for your contribution!

I 100% agree with Morgan's reply - ditto!!

When my mom was hospitalized for 3 weeks this past March, there was a family member present with her from 9 a.m. until she fell asleep at 11 p.m.  To make her more comfortable, she had with her, her favourite sweater and shawl, and some other personal items.  I also played her favourite Portuguese fado music on my iPad.  Rebecca (my niece) would write some 'love notes'  for avó (grandmother in Portuguese) on the white board, followed by many hearts, hugs and kisses.  I did my utmost best to infuse her hospitalization with a lot of love, and some comforts from home to aid with her healing.

There is such great potential to design hospital settings that are more comfortable, inviting and soothing for patients.  A few weeks ago I read an article about 'patient hotels' in Denmark.   Hospitals can be beautiful spaces, there is great design potential ~ we need to adopt this design philosophy in North America. 

I'm very interested to see how this challenge will progress and its final outcome.

The best to you, Chiara ~ ciao!

Photo of Chiara Pineschi

Hello Helen,
thanks for your contribution. I absolutely agree with what you have just said; I have made the experience of having my grandad, my mum and my dad in hospitals (in different periods, for different issues) and I deeply felt the patients' struggles to maintain a "normal" life in there. I also felt very uneasy with the hospital's noises and happenings; it really felt difficult to create a familiar environment for my relatives. I think what you've done for your mum is was greatly appreciated by her. 'Being yourself' in the midst of those noises and smells is challenging. This is why I think this is a wonderful idea. Hospitals need to be beautiful spaces indeed!
All the best, have a nice day still.