The Role of Modern Architecture in Hospital Design

Learning from the past to progress into the future

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On the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, we propose to look back at how the “modern movement” led to the emergence of the new architecture during the first half of the 20th century. This commemoration gives architects the opportunity to share this important part of our history and culture with the whole of society, and whose influence has been particularly significant in architecture for health and healthcare design.

The concept of health was at the core of the modern movement agenda. The definition and design of healthy housing and healthy cities was one of the fundamental objectives. In fact, some of the most canonical works of the time were experiments on how to improve the architecture of well-being. From the Paimio Sanatorium by Alvar and Aino Aalto in the Finnish forests, to GATPAC’S Anti-tuberculosis Clinic in the historical center of Barcelona, the movement left a legacy of healthcare buildings throughout Europe.

What did these buildings have in common? Mainly, they were flooded with daylight and enjoyed natural ventilation, views to the outdoors and natural surroundings, all of which were innovative concepts that contributed to defining what constitutes a “healing environment” during the first half of the 20th century. Another key feature was the incorporation of the most advanced technologies available at the time.

Connecting with nature to provide healthy environments

If all this sounds familiar, it is because these concepts of healthcare design or design and health are now returning with renewed strength to contemporary healthcare architecture. Speaking from my own experience, my training as an architect was fundamentally influenced by my relationship with Josep Lluís Sert—one of the most prominent architects of the modern movement—whose work reflects a permanent quest for well-being through architecture.

Hospitals and other sanitary areas, such as clinics, geriatric and rehabilitation centers, are not neutral spaces. On the contrary, they are often places of emotional and distressful exchange.

It has been proven that spaces with plenty of natural daylight and with a presence of nature help patients to recover more quickly while also easing the job of doctors and caretakers.

In the hospitals that we have built during the last 20 years, natural daylight has been the main feature, having also introduced green courtyards, with trees as natural elements able to transform a clinical environment into a friendly and familiar one, where patients and professionals can feel at ease inside the building.

Healthcare design is making hospitals less “clinical” and healthier in a broader sense.
Views from inside the Hospital of Mollet, completed in 2010 by Mario Corea Arquitectura. Photo © Pepo Segura

A clear example of the modern movement’s continued influence can be seen in the similarities between the GATCPAC’s Anti-tuberculosis Clinic in Barcelona and the newer Hospital of Mollet. The luminous facade and the clinic’s tree-lined central courtyard anticipated the concept for the facades and courtyards of Mollet’s hospital.

Technology has contributed significantly to making hospitals and healthcare design less “clinical” and healthier in a broader sense. Small windows typical of older hospitals have given way to large glass facades, and indoor courtyards provide natural daylight while connecting users to nature within the hospital environment. If neither of these elements are feasible, the building can be fitted with skylights to add daylight to interior spaces. All this in addition to thermal windows, isolated roofs and the use of geothermal and solar energies, fall in line with the principles and values of the modern movement. The aim is to rescue these principles and project them towards the future, which is what the architects of the modern movement would most likely do today.

This article was written in connection with the first session of the round table series on Hospital Architecture organized at Roca Barcelona Gallery.