Irena Hradecká; photo: Tomáš Vodňanský.
Irena Hradecká; photo: Tomáš Vodňanský.

The Architecture of Health

Irena Hradecká

During last year, the connection between architecture and health has been questioned and discussed more often than in the last hundred years. Responding to the pandemic, architects and theorists started sharing their views on how this experience will change cities and room layouts, which design concerns will be brought forward, and which of those concerns will be forgotten. Understandably, open-plan offices (condemned, irrespective of the pandemic) became a hot topic for debate. The key building type in this situation, the hospital, received far less attention.
In many cases, it became apparent that building a new department for COVID-19 patients from scratch is more effective than trying to adapt the existing infrastructure to sudden and specific needs. Why? In our healthcare system, where we rely on antibiotics, vaccines and other sophisticated medicines, so that the meaning of the term “premature death” has been delayed roughly thirty years, there is simply no contingency plan for sudden surges of patients. Hospitals are designed to run at full capacity, according to long-term data, which makes complete sense. There is a second answer, less favourable to architects: an overwhelming majority of healthcare facilities lack flexibility, a problem very noticeable long before the pandemic hit.
The aim of this issue is certainly not to predict the future or produce failsafe solutions. It’s more of a broad overview, searching for dialogue between architecture and a human losing elementary body safety, analyzing the architectural narratives of recent history. Vitruvius’ plea that every architect have a medical education could hardly be satisfied today. But responsibility and forethought, implied in the common principle — Primum non nocere! — should compensate.

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