Architects play a key role in shaping the society. The spaces we design have a deep impact on the fabric of society. Designing spaces where the users feel safe and at home with peace is the ultimate goal of good architecture. What happens when spaces do not make the user feel comfortable? The space fails as a good space. One such scenario is systemic hospitals. Generalising that all hospital designs are terrible and make the user uncomfortable is incorrect. Architects must come up with a holistic hospital design that is centred around its users.

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Green Spaces_© Tanya

Women who opt to become mothers go through a 40-week process of pregnancy and giving birth to welcome their children into the world. Not all women have a smooth sailing pregnancy and childbirth. As an architect, one must provide them with the utmost care when they visit their healthcare centres. In the olden days, women had child births at home. That does not mean we go back to that set-up without any medical care, but we can aim to recreate the feel of their homes in healthcare centres. That is why of late, we are seeing a rise in women reaching out to natural birthing centres rather than the systemic hospital setup.

So how does one go about creating an environment where mothers feel safe and at home to birth to their children?

Bridging the gap between home and medical care

Good architecture is the key to bridging the gap between home and medical care. Well-designed spaces can make the user feel at home. The first and foremost is to create a welcoming atmosphere where the mother learns that she can trust her care provider. A sense of openness can be created using features for natural daylighting and greenery. More often than not hospitals have artificial lighting even during the day and the green spaces are either not present or not accessible to the users. Making way for ample natural daylighting can enhance the overall feel of the space and make it homely. Hospitals are tense environments. Not all news one gets is good news and it is important to have accessible green spaces where users can go to take in and process their feelings.

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Kids Play Area_© Asia Culturecenter

User-centric design

One must consider the mother as a user and not as a patient. More often than not the mother is usually accompanied by her family which includes and not limited to her husband and kids. The spaces need to cater to their needs as well. The hospital waiting area must be kid-friendly and at eye level from other spaces like registration, cash counters, cafeteria, pharmacy, etc. Internal wayfinding needs to be smoothly incorporated to enhance the patient flow seamlessly. Creating themes for various spaces can also help in smooth wayfinding.  

The clinical environment must feel pleasant to the user with ample daylighting instead of harsh artificial lighting. As for the birthing suite, personalisation goes a long way in creating a pleasant experience which helps in creating a homely feel. It also helps the mother and her family have a better birthing experience. She can be given options to choose the lighting, customise overhead music and choose the views from the suite. When they are provided with options, they receive a feeling of control over their visit and care. In a systemic hospital setup, the father’s accommodation is often overlooked. A well-rested father or birthing partner can aid the mother better than an equally tired partner. So it is essential to cater to the birthing partner’s needs as well with proper bedding and a pantry to overcome the long hours of labour.

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Waiting Area_© Copernico

Newborn-Mother Dyad spaces

Newborn babies are highly sensitive to their surroundings after spending 40 weeks in utero. The only familiarity they feel is towards their mother. Naturally, emphasis should be placed on areas like NICUs that require newborns to be separated from their mothers for essential reasons. NICUs can be daunting spaces for new parents depending on the severity of the issues with their newborn. So it needs to be easily accessible from the birthing suite and the recovery rooms so that the parents can visit the newborns whenever necessary. The space also should be lively and well-lit. 

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Green Space_© Danist Soh

Hospitals have an influx of a lot of users throughout the day. In most systemic hospitals, the entry for new patients and the exit for current patients either overlap or are nearby. This can cause discomfort in both types of patients. This is especially true in the case of discharge for new parents. The discharge process is of equal importance. Providing a comfortable and private route can be very helpful for new parents. 

What differentiates systemic hospitals from natural birthing centres is the focus on humanising the space. A complete clinical setup can be daunting for expectant and new parents. Architects must humanise the hospital environment and create a holistic space where expectant and new parents feel at home and safe to bring new life into the world. 

Author

An avid reader, who feels at home when penning down her thoughts to paper. She believes in coming together of holistically good ideas, with multidisciplinary research, for providing collaborative design solutions.