Is Design Making Us Sick?

In some situations, design stands in the way of patient recovery.

Patients take air on the patio of the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda. The hospital’s design emphasizes access to fresh air, sunlight, and views of nature.

Courtesy Iwan Baan

The following letter was written in response to Michael Kimmelman’s article “In Redesigned Room, Hospital Patients May Feel Better Already” and was sent to the New York Times.  

“Can good design help heal the sick?”, asks architecture critic Michael Kimmelman. A more important question may be, “Is design, the way it’s being practiced today, making us sick?” Yes, so the evidence on contagion shows; in fact it’s killing us. Our sealed buildings breed the kinds of superbugs that no caustic (read poisonous) cleaning agents can wipe out. And while architects debate if MASS Design Group’s truly innovative Rwandan work is architecture with a capital A, the TB patients who sit on benches outside this hospital, in the fresh air that dissipates their germs, are less likely to infect each other then they would indoors. Seal them in, and no matter how “well designed” that waiting room might be, patients pass their germs to those around them. The question we need ask is “Are our hospital architects open minded enough to learn from what MASS discovered in Rwanda.”  It’s time to remember that we are creatures that need sunshine and fresh air, especially when we’re sick or dying.

Susan S. Szenasy
Publisher/Editor in Chief, Metropolis

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