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Healthcare proposals from Poems from the Patient Patient / finding Amor Fati win RIBA Dissertation award

Words:
Pamela Buxton

Chloe Shang of the Royal College of Art draws on her own experience of hospitalisation to investigate healthcare environments and how to improve them

Research drawing by Chloe Shang of Architecture’s Medical History, from the Asclepieion at Epidaurus (bottom) to Guy’s Cancer Centre by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (top).  After Gandy (1830).
Research drawing by Chloe Shang of Architecture’s Medical History, from the Asclepieion at Epidaurus (bottom) to Guy’s Cancer Centre by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (top). After Gandy (1830). Credit: Chloe Shang

Poems from the Patient Patient \ finding Amor Fati
Chloe Shang

Royal College of Art
Tutors: Mark Campbell, Emilio Distretti, Polly Gould

Chloe Shang’s own experiences in hospital informed her highly personal dissertation on the architecture of healing.  In Poems from the Patient Patient \ finding Amor Fati [love of one’s fate] she first uses poetry as a method of healing in response to stays in a number of London and Kent hospitals during 2020.

‘I had a real desire to write creatively about illness as a way to assimilate it and find the agency to move on,’ she says.

Armed with fresh insights from her experience, she then progresses from the mindset of the ‘powerless patient’ to that of the emerging, ‘powerful’ architect. Her aim is to impel tangible change in the design and construction of healthcare spaces. 

‘Decades of austerity and stagnation have diluted the hospital into an architectural purgatory and, moreover, a pervasive environmental poison. The architects of health must now realise: we have a singular opportunity to embolden, console and uplift at times when they are most keenly needed, and a duty if not to cure with architecture, then at least to not kill with it,’ she says.

Healing body; healing land’, a concept for assisted living housing for the mid to long term care of patients, proposed for a former quarry in Cornwall.
Healing body; healing land’, a concept for assisted living housing for the mid to long term care of patients, proposed for a former quarry in Cornwall. Credit: Chloe Shang

Her own time in hospital forms the framework for analysis of different hospital environments and associated theories on healthcare design, including Roger Ulrich’s 1984 study on how nature can induce healing, and the work of Maggie and Charles Jencks. She particularly felt the lack of sufficient natural light following a traumatic stay in an isolation room at Darent Valley Hospital that was ‘no better than a prison cell’. In contrast, she found considerable solace in the views of city life from London’s Guy’s Hospital tower.

Materials are shown to be hugely important to the patient experience – both the avoidance of toxic substances and the multiple benefits of greater use of natural materials such as timber and stone.

‘The qualities of these materials help to turn healthcare architecture, usually one of apathy and alienation, into one of empathy and encouragement,’ she says.  
These feature in two design projects included in the dissertation. An integrative treatment, rehabilitation and Maggie’s day centre for Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust is conceived for a site in Lambeth Palace Gardens in London. She also proposes a new typology of assisted-living housing combined with physical and psychological treatment spaces for patients with long-term health conditions.  The site is an old quarry in Cornwall, giving a parallel theme of healing the scarred landscape as well as the patients.

Shang would like to see more interest in designing healthcare environments from those leading the way in the architectural profession, and hopes one day to work in that sector herself.

See interviews with all the President Medal winners

Reimagined hospital room designed to mediate the need for privacy, dignity, and a desire for gathering. The room has a stone core, timber screen and glazed walls.
Reimagined hospital room designed to mediate the need for privacy, dignity, and a desire for gathering. The room has a stone core, timber screen and glazed walls. Credit: Chloe Shang

RIBA Dissertation Commendations

A Project of Autonomy: Renegotiating the Border as a Condition of Collectivity
Kieran Lindsay 
University of Dundee
Tutor: Yorgos Berdos

Insidious and Messy Hybridity: Reframing Japanese Identity
Kai McLaughlin
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL)
Tutor: Murray Fraser

Going Beyond the Layers of the Facade. After Performance, Towards Care 
Giulia Rosa
Architectural Association
Tutor: Merce Rodrigo Garcia

2023 RIBA Dissertation Medal panel

Samir Pandya (chair) Architect and assistant head of the School of Architecture and Cities at the University of Westminster, UK
Patti Anahory Architect working across building, art, education, and spatial and curatorial practices, Cabo Verde
Richard Anderson Head of the Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, UK
Katy Beinart Artist and senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Brighton, UK
Luca Molinari Architect, curator and critic; professor of theory of architecture at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli (Italy)
Belgin Turan Özkaya Professor of architectural history in the Department of Architecture at the Middle East Technical University, Türkiye

 

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