Q&A: Improving the hospital experience through architecture


A researcher at KU Leuven has studied the impact of architecture on how patients experience their stay in hospital

Unusual perspective

Margo Annemans is an architecture researcher at the University of Leuven, and has just published her findings on hospital architecture, looking at its effect on the patient experience. She completed her research under the supervision of the university’s Research[x]Design group, and received a grant from Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship in collaboration with Osar architects.

Can you talk us through your research?
I investigated which aspects relevant to architectural practice have an impact on patients’ experience of hospital environments.

Hospital buildings tend to be experienced by patients from an unusual perspective for architects, because they are often lying in bed! This altered perspective has a significant impact on how patients experience the environment, and gaining insight into this experience is crucial for architects if they are to design truly patient-centred hospitals.

I conducted fieldwork at four research settings, involving four patients at a nephrology ward, 22 at an emergency department, 12 at a traditional day ward and 25 at a day surgery centre.

Did any architectural features have a particularly positive or negative effect on patients?
One factor is whether a patient is static or in motion. When patients are wheeled around, they experience the building as a sequence of spaces, with each space having a share in the overall experience. So attention should be paid not only to the patient room or examination room, but to each space the patients pass through.

Another factor is the length of stay. While most hospitals tend to group patients in wards according to illness, from an experiential perspective that doesn’t seem to be the most appropriate approach.

Is this an area that has been subject to in-depth research before?
Research on how to design a patient room abounds. But taking into account patients in motion is definitely a novel approach. Even if you have the most luxurious room, if you’re wheeled to an examination through the basement, past the dirty laundry, your experience of the space will not be positive.

What are you hoping the outcome of your research will be?
Obviously, I would like the results to be implemented in future hospital designs. Some already are. Osar architects has used some of the ideas in its winning submission for a design competition for a new hospital in Turnhout. In a few years, a hospital will be built that divides its space in a new way between long- and short-term patients, and that pays specific attention to users’ social needs.

Photo: Ingimage