by Anmol AhujaJul 22, 2021
The world altering events of this year and the last one, coupled together, have served to be stark reminders of the fundamental importance of hospitals as institutions holding the very fabric of society together. Through a record caseload imposed upon virtually every outlet for healthcare, and the system nearly buckling under the pressure of the pandemic’s subsequent waves, hospitals proved resilient; battered, but resilient nonetheless. However, along with serving as institutions safeguarding, essentially and primevally, life, as a first and last defense, the systems at the spine of modern healthcare also exposed a number of cracks in the surface, partly owing to the unprecedented nature of the event itself. There may be several factors: socio-economic, political, and even ethnographic that may be accredited with influencing the situation, manifold. Among such crevices, questions on their design, the architecture of both their structure and the systems running them, their larger role as an essential cog in the machine, their perceived success in enhancing human life, and the strides they made when pitted against an unprecedented scenario like the COVID-19 pandemic, all lay bare to gregariously look at their past, and precariously question their future: especially in the present day when their need assumes omniscient proportions. Pegged on their showcase at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, STIR engages in an inquisitive conversation with Hans Larsson and Alexandru Retegan of world renowned architecture practice OMA to gauge the answers to these questions, and to glimpse into the potential future their study on the trends in healthcare and hospital design point to.
Both Larsson and Retegan, senior architect, and public relations officer, editor, and researcher at OMA respectively, who conceptually realised and researched ‘Hospital of the Future’, aptly consider hospitals and their design to be a discipline wherein the overlap of architecture and technology was indeed sizeable, but in a very nascent way: so much so that it often went overlooked when compared to other fields that merge the two disciplines rather effortlessly. WIth a critical outlook, the two speakers in their conversation with STIR pointed out that in pursuit of an elusive efficiency, the design of the modern hospital often sacrificed on capacities, one among the many cracks that emerged as hospitals and medical workers battled the pandemic. Another common standing was that the “future”, a term then residing permanently in the title of the project and serving a temporal albeit uncertain timeline for the hospital, was here. Sooner rather than later, through the lens of this topical project, Larsson and Retegan opined that we were looking at this conjured future in a matter of a few years from now.
What then does the hospital of the future look like? While the exhibition design gives the futuristic hospital somewhat of a “form”, and the film theorises it, this edifice remains an abstraction that also doubles up as a provocation of sorts. A particular stand out was Corbusier’s modular man, a far cry from the lean, black figure, placed under the dramatic light of the arsenale, and scaled up to two times as compared to “standards”. The figures matched the similarly scaled hospital screens and a quasi-observation room setup, pointing towards the screen displaying the film. The intent behind this, as Larsson and Retegan stated, was to subvert the idea of a standard, because us as humans were far from it.
Considering current trends and the strides we have already made, OMA imagines the hospital of the future to be in a state of constant flux. Akin to a stage for the theatre, the hospital would transform its “mise-en-scène” to suit the event. “If organs can be 3D printed, could the hospital be 3D printed? Using its waste as a resource, could it rebuild itself perpetually?”, probes an almost cryptic official release on the project. Another observation that the speakers seemed to agree on, was that the hospital in the years to come would be self-sufficient, hybridised, and a place you would never have to go to. Pointing toward an almost logistical operative solution, our medical edifices were suggested to be located in existing multipurpose buildings, using their functionality as their own, like a greenhouse producing its own crop.
“The hospital of the future is a place you will never go. Using its data, the hospital of the future will act remotely, treat each patient individually, monitoring one’s health and operating where needed,” OMA states in their official release, pointing to an almost metaphysical, transformative entity that is, as stated before, omniscient, yet different for everybody. All this, while proclaiming that the hospital as we knew it, was dead, directing their scrutiny to faults in the current spatiality of hospitals, and the tough balance to strike between an immense list of functions, and the human aspect of their architecture. A similar hue and cry echoes through the closing statement of the project presentation, pointing to a more “machinic” future for us all: “If it became automatic, could the hospital of the future be more human?”
Curated as a series of thoughtful engagements that enhance the contemporary debate and discussion on architecture, the STIRring Together series introduces readers to the many facets of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021. Tracing the various adaptations and following the multitude of perspectives, the series carefully showcases some incredible projects and exhibits, highlighting the diversity and many discourses of the show.