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Does where you heal affect how you heal? C.F. Møller Architects thinks so, as evidenced by its design for one of Europe’s largest hospitals. Located in Denmark, Aarhus University Hospital (AUH) is equal parts urban plan and treatment centre. 

The firm already knew the site’s full medical history, having devised its last hospital project in the 1980s. This made for a smooth transition when, as part of Denmark’s strategy to consolidate top expertise and equipment in fewer, larger and more efficient super-hospitals, it became time for the complex to grow by 216,000 square metres. After five years of planning, construction of AUH began in 2012; the expansion followed the same logic prescribed by its predecessor, favouring bright, low-slung architecture. “We talked about it as a city, because a city can feel humane and attractive no matter what its size,” says firm partner Julian Weyer. “And we wanted that kind of organic evolution — something with the flexibility to continue to grow and shift, rather than get torn down in 30 years.”

Inspired by the concept of an archetypal landmark in a small Dutch town, C.F. Møller introduced a lone tower element — housing the main entrance, diabetic centre, offices and a patient hotel — that acts as a natural orientation aid. Granted, the decentralized nature of the campus means that most patients never experience its full scope. Thanks to its dedicated ER beds, the ambulatory care unit allows patients to spend the night without ever being admitted. In turn, each inpatient ward is scaled down to a more intimate and manageable three units with eight beds apiece.

AUH features plenty of daylight and soothing elements like red brick and wood, while patient rooms include fold-down beds for visiting relatives. PHOTO: Kirstine Mengel

Many other strategic moves trace back to evidence-based studies in how architecture can impact patient well-being. For instance, the firm built physical mock-ups to fine-tune room proportions so that patients in a range of conditions feel empowered to operate their ensuite washrooms independently. Materials like wood-look flooring — which delivers a calming sense of warmth — reflect recent psychological findings. And in response to research about circadian rhythms and the impact of nature, windows in patient rooms are placed at three different heights to offer views of the sky, the courtyard and the surrounding landscape from bed.

For Weyer, these considerations are examples of healing architecture: “We know no one wants to go to a hospital unless they’re ill, and while it’s a no-brainer to not create environments that contradict the recovery process, we still strive to create ones where healthy people might also want to go.” First, do no harm.

C.F. Møller Brings a Healthier Approach to Aarhus University Hospital

More like a small town than an institutional megastructure, this sprawling Danish hospital embraces the tenets of healing architecture.

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