“Sometimes it really feels like science fiction”

Anyone who is to draw environments for future healthcare must also understand what it may look like and familiarize themselves with the forefront of medical research. This is one of the challenges Jens Axelsson, an architect with a focus on healthcare design, needs to deal with in his profession.


Why were you interested in working with healthcare environments?

Several people in my family work with healthcare in various ways. As a child, I came into contact with a number of healthcare environments and got to see exciting analytical instruments and the large blood cooler at the blood centre at the hospital. It was fascinating! So perhaps it was a subconscious coincidence that I ended up working with healthcare design. Above all, I want to do something meaningful. Everyone will come into contact with the healthcare sector at some point, and it’s a democratic right that these environments be of a high quality and designed to cater for everyone. It’s really about helping people who are in difficult situations and ensuring that they have a warm and safe environment in which the staff have the conditions to do a good job.


How do you optimise the architecture for both patients and staff?

At White, we work with evidence-based design that is rooted in research when we design healthcare environments to provide the optimal environment for people’s recovery. Several of us at White have links to education. For instance, I teach about health-promoting environments at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg.  Of course, we also have to familiarise ourselves with the environments we’re designing and working with. We also invest our own resources in research – for example, I ran a project in which we explored the use of wood in healthcare environments. This can be a balancing act, because not everything can be easily measured. However, we know that a well-designed environment in a psychiatric unit can reduce the number of coercive measures needed.

Everyone will come into contact with the healthcare sector at some point, and it’s a democratic right that these environments be of a high quality and designed to cater for everyone.

Research usually attracts a lot of interest, since healthcare is such a knowledge-intensive sector that is characterised by new thinking and innovation. We have to keep abreast of the latest medical research in order to understand future needs and create environments that will stand the test of time. Sometimes, sitting at the drawing board and reasoning about whether a healthcare environment should be able to accommodate the transition to future robotic surgery or other methods really feels like science fiction. And that happens a lot more than you might think! Just like elsewhere in society, a lot is happening in terms of digital solutions – these too will require their own physical spaces in the future, I think.


What makes healthcare design interesting from an architect’s perspective?

These are exciting environments that need to be able to accommodate so much. Many of our healthcare projects are so large that there’s the scope to explore many different elements and specialise in what interests you the most. It also provides the opportunity to work in several different stages and follow a project from the first sketch all the way to moving-in day. Things often get super creative when you’re working closely alongside various specialists, where everyone is involved in absolutely everything! You also have to work closely with the people who are going to use the facilities. I know that the people I meet in a particular department are going to be the ones using the spaces we design. It’s great fun, but it also comes with great responsibility. They have to enjoy and also be able to use the facilities in the best possible way.


How close do you get to the day-to-day work and lives of healthcare staff in your projects?

We often get very close to the action, and at times we need to put on our work clothes for a site visit to a department. There are also occasions when the solutions we put forward are outlined together with the staff who are going to be using them. This collaboration is a prerequisite for a good outcome, and it’s so rewarding for me as an architect to get to work so closely with the users of a project. There are so many different perspectives that have to be reconciled, and although it’s not easy, it’s a great feeling when we succeed.

Get to know the people behind the architecture!

We are passionate about health-care architecture and the complexity it takes to shape the health-care environments of the future. Meet Anna Arias och Rafel Crespo Solana.

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