In 2009, the design for Akershus University Hospital won C. F. Møller Architects the prestigious Building Better Healthcare Award. This prize-winning building is inspired by several of the innovative ambitions that began to pervade healthcare architecture in the 1990s: the wish to offer patients and staff a non-institutional, informal environment, the focus on patients rather than on medical processes and the awareness that the patients’ experiences while staying in a hospital should not isolate them from everyday life outside. The architects decided against the use of design strategies that would hide the impressive size of this building. Instead, they borrowed a theme from urbanism and opted for a configuration of volumes connected via a five story high, glass-covered central spine leading from the entrance, which faces south, to the children’s ward that terminates the main axis in the north.
Most of the beds are accommodated in four ‘fingers’ that stretch out from the spinal cord. The patient wards have single and double bedrooms alternated with social spaces (squares) at every five rooms. Nurse stations are at the center of each ward. They have a balcony that provides them with natural daylight. All rooms have views on the park, the forest, and the mountains in the distance. To allow children to enjoy direct contact with the outside world as well, extra windows have been made beneath and also above the regular ones. Flatscreens with internet access have an integrated control panel that gives patients the possibility to adjust temperature and lighting. Since all outpatient departments are located on the central spine at the ground floor, the traffic their visitors usually produce is kept out of the rest of the building and concentrated in the main interior circulation artery, where it produces an almost urban atmosphere. Niches along the central street have been designed to act as waiting spaces. This arrangement implied the need to move the emergency department to the first floor. The hot floor has been arranged around four courtyards on the other side of the central artery. Teaching facilities are dispersed throughout the entire building, thus enhancing the interaction between students and hospital, and preventing separating the students from the medical working environment.
The combination of fingers and courtyards guarantees an abundance of daylight, one of the qualities recognized by Evidence-based Design as being beneficial for patients and staff alike. Moreover, it provides visual connections to the landscape that prevent the impression of being detained in a hermetically closed environment.
Similar to cities that have grown organically, the complex shows a variety of components characterized by slightly different materials and colors, which nevertheless are clearly part of the larger whole. Here, this effect is enhanced by the use of panels in wood, aluminum, white-lacquered sinusoidal aluminum, tombak and glass within a color scheme derived from the panels designed by the Icelandic artist Birgir Andrésson. The patient wards are clad in black, the children’s department in oak panels; in the central spine wood dominates. Within the wings of the building, the same strategy is used to single out smaller parts of different functions.
The central spine has been designed as a public boulevard with facilities ranging from a church to a hairdresser; secondary, semi-public streets branch off from this boulevard to the treatment areas to the left and the patient wards to the right of the entrance hall. The artwork complements the overall clarity of the layout to facilitate wayfinding, a crucial element for preventing patients and visitors from getting – or feeling – lost. Moreover, the personnel staffing the reception desks in the main thoroughfare are there to help, adding a human touch. One of the hospital’s explicit goals was to gradually reduce unsustainable technologies, particularly the reliance on fossil energy. Ground heat is processed in a geothermal power plant that caters for 40 % of the building’s total energy consumption and is one of the largest of its kind in Europe.
Originally published in: Cor Wagenaar, Noor Mens, Guru Manja, Colette Niemeijer, Tom Guthknecht, Hospitals: A Design Manual, Birkhäuser, 2018.