Healing Architecture

It has long been known that the form of hospital rooms influences patient wellbeing. Now this concept has a name: ‘healing architecture.’ A new U.S. military hospital under construction at Ramstein Air Base is a prime example.

October, 2019

Back in the 19th century, Florence Nightingale, the famous British nurse and social reformer, laid out a vision of hospital rooms that were bright and airy, full of sunlight and with views of nature. Today, a number of scientific studies show that Nightingale was right. Functionality and efficiency should by no means be the only criteria used in either exterior or interior hospital architecture. The effect of environment on patients is critical.

The new NATO hospital at Ramstein Air Base in western Germany will be the largest American military hospital outside of the U.S. With an area of approximately 137,300m2 and a height of two multi-storey car parks, it will accommodate 5,000 rooms and 40 specialized clincs.

© dpa

The buildings we spend most of our time in shape our wellbeing, even more so when we are sick and weak. Of course, architects are not doctors – they can’t save lives with their designs – but they can help support the work of physicians and nurses. The basic idea of healing architecture is to put the needs of the patient ahead of mere functionality, thereby helping them recover.

HOK Architects, one of the largest planning offices in the world, specializes in healing architecture. Using scientific data, HOK develops designs for patient-friendly clinics inspired by nature, suffused by natural light and both acoustically and climatically optimized to increase people’s wellbeing. GTAI supported HOK in finding a partner in Germany that specializes in hospital construction – Stuttgart-based HWP Planungsgesellschaft. Together they formed the joint venture HOK/HWP and won the bid for the Ramstein facility. Located next to the U.S. military airport, the one-billion-euro ‘Rhine Ordnance Barracks Medical Center Replacement’ (ROBMCR) is currently being developed and should be finished by the year 2022. The scale of the project is huge: The hospital will include 5,000 rooms, 40 specialized clinics and nine operating rooms.

Supporting recovery

The challenge is to fulfill the many military-specific requirements while staying true to the principles of healing architecture. “We have created a large atrium with lots of sunlight,” Thomas Quigley, the director of HOK Healthcare Practice, says. “German building codes support patient-friendly environments. They strongly regulate light and ventilation – both of which benefit patients.” The way rooms are laid out can also help patients in their recovery. For example, waiting rooms can be divided into quiet zones for privacy and more lively areas for social interaction, perhaps even with background music. The traditional vast, anonymous hospital is outmoded and being replaced by architecture that has a positive effect on the people within it.