’Architecture can reduce stress’

Interview with the curators of the exhibition "Building to Heal: New Architecture for Hospitals"

New hospital architecture illustrated with the Princess Máxima Center for Pediat
New hospital architecture illustrated with the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
The exhibition "Building to Heal: New Architecture for Hospitals" at the TUM Architecture Museum presents an international selection of still rare hospital buildings which support the healing process. The presentation of scientific findings from architectural psychology is intended to stimulate change and to broaden public debate through various different senses.

The exhibition catalog says "Architecture which helps heal doesn’t make room for the illness, it makes space for those who are ill." What do the projects you’ve chosen share in common?
Tanja C. Vollmer: You’ll find "the Healing Seven" in these hospitals. These scientific criteria include Orientation, Odorscape, Soundscape, View and Foresight, Privacy and Withdrawal, Power Points, the Human Scale - and we try to render all these variables spatially tangible during the exhibition visit.

Lisa Luksch: We’ve structured the exhibition based on these criteria and investigated 13 hospitals for exactly these factors.

Why do we know that these seven variables help the healing process?
Vollmer: In 2010 my research group within Kopvol architecture & psychology launched a multi-year study in the Netherlands involving over 300 patients and 100 couples in which one person was ill and the other healthy. We accompanied these people during their entire treatment period and investigated the correlation between their spatial perceptions - and these change significantly for seriously ill individuals - and their experience of stress. Their stress increased whenever feelings of darkness and constriction grew stronger. This means that architecture can increase or reduce stress. And when stress is reduced, pain is reduced, less medication is consumed and less time is spent bed-ridden. This all has a positive impact on the healing process.

How do I feel this modified perception in the exhibition?
Luksch: One of the greatest challenges was: How do we convey these enormous architectures to laypeople? Optically large and busy collages (isometric drawings) help in the empathetic process, as do the other senses: For example, the Norwegian aroma researcher Sissel Tolaas is experimenting with "healing smells" for us.

Vollmer: What architects do and have to understand will only succeed when they look the illness in the eye and reflect as if they were ill people themselves. And we hope exactly this understanding arises as soon as the visitor enters the exhibition - for laypeople as well as for experts. During our respective Visiting Professorships at TUM my research partner Gemma Koppen and I have developed a structural design model together with international Master’s degree candidates, the "Münchner Lehrmodell" ("Munich Evidence Based Design Model"). Interest in psychologically founded design was and is enormous. We’re being almost overwhelmed by inquiries from Architect’s Chambers and associations.