Ever since the emergence of germ theory in the late 19th century, hospital design has focused on creating spaces that feel as antiseptic and institutional as possible. That approach may have helped boost public trust in the medical system in the last 100 years, but now all those sterile white surfaces and long, echoing corridors full of beeping machines have come to feel impersonal, even uncaring. A new hospital design by architect Renzo Piano, developed in collaboration with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), aims to bring a sense of humanity back to the healthcare system with healing gardens, tranquil outdoor spaces, and flexible layouts.
Three new facilities are planned for the cities of Thessaloniki, Komotini, and Sparta in Greece. The largest of the three in Thessaloniki will be a dedicated children’s hospital. Not only will these new hospitals bring much-needed modernization to underserved areas that have suffered economically since the country’s government debt crisis started in late 2009, they’ll also act as templates for state-of-the-art hospitals throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Developed as part of the international SNF Health Initiative, the hospitals will focus on equity, serenity, dignity, and comfort just as much as high-quality medical care.
This philosophy is rooted in three core values: the therapeutic power of nature, environmental sustainability, and medical excellence paired with holistic patient-centric care. That translates to spaces and practices that provide privacy, personalized care, direct connection to the outdoors, and room to grow so hospitals can avoid stagnancy by keeping up with changing needs and ideas. Piano’s designs are all similar in their appearance, featuring long rectangular buildings topped with overhanging flat roofs covered with solar panels. These visible structures host clinical centers, while other buildings tucked into the surrounding hillsides contain labs and other technical facilities.
When SNF first started researching this project, they spoke to the local communities where the hospitals are being built and asked them what they’d like to see included in the design. They asked for healing gardens, upper-floor patios, art on display, and recreation areas along with green campuses ringed with trees instead of massive parking lots. In fact, the landscape was designed specifically so that patients can see trees from the windows of their hospital rooms. Plentiful windows and skylights let natural light come pouring into all spaces, including intensive care units and operating rooms.
Healing gardens have become more common in medical settings in recent years, mostly for the benefit of patients. But doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff will also benefit from the ability to walk out into a lushly planted outdoor space to take much-needed breaks from the stress of their jobs. Family members waiting to hear news of a patient’s prognosis or to comfort them after a procedure can experience a sense of relief in these spaces, complete with areas for kids to play, as an alternative to dim, institutional lobbies.
“The basic idea in the tree projects is, to give shape to facilities, which are totally immersed in nature, in order to foster a quiet, relaxing environment for patients and their relatives, but also for doctors, nurses, and all staff,” says the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. “Nature has in fact a ‘therapeutic’ role in every patient’s rehabilitation process, as in the ancient Asklepeion.”