Make it better | Monocle

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Hospitals don’t have to be cold, clinical places. Danish firm CF Møller Architects lifts spirits with this design for the new Akershus University Hospital. Built in the suburb of Akershus, just outside Oslo, the 7.2bn kroner (€811m) building is one of four public hospitals that are ­affiliated with the University of Oslo. It features soaring ceilings, long rows of windows, bespoke furniture crafted in local wood and a collection of art.

It’s about as far removed from the sterile stereotype as you can get. CF Møller was appointed to the project nine years ago. Most of the existing ­hospital – an ugly 1960s block – was knocked down and the architects went back to the drawing board to come up with a more open-plan blueprint. The firm, headquarted in Århus, Denmark, is expert at hospital design. It’s helped build more than 80 hospitals over 70 years.

Scandinavian design principles rule, which means plenty of natural ­materials, soothing daylight and clean lines. It’s an approach that other countries want to bring into their hospitals too; CF Møller was recently approached to design a national diabetes clinic for the King Saud University in Riyadh.

Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, architect Klavs Hyttel is bounding along, talking excitedly. He’s been involved in the Akershus hospital project from the start and clearly knows his way around the maze of corridors and wards. “This was the first hospital where we could make a whole new identity in one step,” he says. Reconciling an unwieldy masterplan and a friendly, easy to navigate design is one of the biggest challenges large hospitals face.

Akershus hospital, essentially one big six-storey block stretching over 118,000 sq m, manages to feel much smaller than it is thanks to some good design trickery. The potentially intimidating space is broken up into different areas constructed in contrasting materials, making them easy to identify. The exterior of the children’s ward, for example, is clad in pine. It adds texture and interest – there’s certainly no danger of dull, monolithic forms here. “Each element of the hospital has its own architectural attitude. We wanted to scale it down somehow, so that people could make sense of the building,” explains Hyttel. Careful positioning of large windows ensures a rhythmic, calm design. “Daylight is very important for well-being. There is no room that doesn’t have windows,” he adds.

A central thoroughfare, with a breathtaking cathedral-like 25m-high glass-covered roof, runs the length of the hospital. It’s an impressive and expansive public space, dubbed the Glass Street by the ­architects. Envisaged as a mini-city, a chapel, cafeteria, kiosk, pharmacy, florist and hairdresser are positioned around this bustling core. Patients, staff and visitors mix together here. This transparent design approach is refreshing.

“The more open you are, the better it is for well-being,” says Hyttel. Scattered around are custom-crafted benches in wood and Louis Poulsen lamps by Danish designer Louise Campbell. The walls are trimmed with wood and overhead huge cylindrical lights designed by CF Møller’s interior team almost look like an art installation. In the cafeteria there are chairs by Italian manufacturer Alias, and more Louis Poulsen lights in the kiosk.

Above all though, it’s the attention to detail that makes this hospital stand out. Wander into the children’s ward and everything has been scaled down to kiddie-size (there’s a rather diminutive front desk). Even windows are positioned low, at eye-level for children, so that they can look out to the surrounding countryside.

It’s not all about good looks though. The hospital is one of the most technologically advanced in Europe. Pills are delivered to wards via a series of high-speed chutes and a fleet of electronic “robots” zip around carrying cleaning equipment and medication.

Next year, work begins on a new psychiatric ward, rehabilitation centre and patient hotel, also designed by CF Møller. With its innovative and considered design, Akershus promises to give architecture a healthier image.

Three more healthy hospitals

The Danube Clinic
Tulln, Austria

This new extension for a public hospital in the small town of Tulln boasts a cool, calm design. Realised by Viennese architects Loudon & Habeler and Paul Katzberger, it’s just won the prestigious national Landespreis award for best building in the state of Lower Austria.

Completed last year, the exterior is clad in crisp white glass. Seven indoor courtyards punctuate the long 200m block. Rows of floor-to-ceiling windows mean wards and corridors are airy and bright. The interior feels warm, trimmed in stone, oak and slate. A new intensive care unit is being built and will be completed next year.

“We wanted to get away from the institutional character of hospitals,” says Michael Loudon, partner at Loudon & Habeler. With its simple, clean, fuss-free design, it sets new standards.

Tokyu Hospital
Okayama, Japan

Transport isn’t a problem for patients and visitors to the Tokyu Hospital in Okayama, Japan: it’s built right on top of the station. Designed by Koichi Yasuda, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, it opened in 2007 and has been widely praised for its marriage of good design and functionality.

“We thought of it as a hospital for the future, a more personal hospital,” says Yasuda. “Many patients come for kidney dialysis. They can come by train, keep their own lockers here and go to work or school after treatment.”

The hospital is covered in greenery, which shades the building and provides a soothing environment. “I saw a report by psychologists saying that after an operation, patients feel less pain when they see greenery. Sunlight regulations meant that we had to stagger the north side of the building, so we made the terraces into gardens attached to each room.”

The Ravelo Clinic
Ravelo, Tenerife, Spain

Giving a masterclass in healthcare design is this small clinic in the town of Ravelo in northern Tenerife. Designed by local practice gpy Arquitectos, it’s a striking building that makes the most of its dramatic location with a simple, pared-down design.

The clinic’s surroundings are part of the patient experience, thanks to an open, inviting layout. The two-storey block, made from concrete, features expansive floor-to-ceiling windows – patients are able to relax with panoramic views out to the Atlantic and Teide volcano. Clever custom-crafted shutters protect the interior from the blazing sun.

“We’d like to think that this direct relation with the landscape has therapeutic possibilities,” says architect and partner of the firm, Juan Antonio González Pérez. Inside, most of the walls are wooden, creating a warm atmosphere.

The staff

Kjersti Sykepleier
“I like most things about the hospital – the light, the colours. It’s clean and everything is new. I feel proud to work here.”

Hannah Ellingsen
“I like it here very much. It’s not like a traditional hospital but has a more modern, open feel. It’s more like a home, not an institute.”

Siri Englund
Hospital florist
“I think it’s lovely. Hospitals are often cold, white and grey, whereas here there is lots of daylight and it feels warm.”

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