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Spotlight: Healthcare
We highlight projects and products bringing affordable, accessible and design-forward healthcare to those who need it most.
Healthcare products by Michael Graves for CVS
Michael Graves Brings Expertise in Healthcare Design to CVS
Mobile medical clinic
Mobile Medical Clinics that Fit Into Tight Spaces and Budgets
Cancer clinic design by RIOS
RIOS Provides Cancer Patients with a Change of Scenery
Spotlight: Healthcare
Spotlight: Healthcare
Healthcare products by Michael Graves for CVS

“If an elderly person has a fall, there is a 30 per cent chance they won’t live past a year, and a 60 per cent chance they’ll never regain the function they previously had.” Donald Strum, principal of product design at Michael Graves Design, cites this alarming statistic as a main catalyst behind a new collaboration between the renowned design firm (creator of the iconic “whistling bird” teakettle for Alessi) and American medical retailer CVS. The collection is divided into two categories: mobility (which includes a travel walker and two canes — one foldable, one C-grip) and bathroom safety, with a commode, raised toilet seat and shower chair.

The Easy Fold Travel Walker features a (replaceable) rubber grip foot that pops out for stability when weight is placed on its frame.

If these don’t sound like the most exciting of household products, well, they’re not meant to be. Instead, the devices are intended to debunk a “universal truth” about assistive equipment: that it’s ugly and therefore rejected by those who need it (and we all might need it someday) until it becomes absolutely necessary. Blending in is the aim. “Our firm’s mission is to create moments of joy that enhance people’s lives with products that are delightful, purposeful, pioneering and extraordinary,” says principal of design, insights & strategy Rob Van Varick. “With home healthcare, that means providing the safety many people need with an aesthetic that is uplifting…so people will proactively embrace the products that will enable them to maintain independent, fulfilling lives.”

Conferring endless advantages, the Comfort Grip Cane can easily hang over an arm, hook onto shopping bags or support someone getting up from a seated position.
Magnets hold the Take Along Folding Cane in place — simply shake to unfold. An easy-press button makes adjusting the height a breeze, even for arthritic hands.

The firm has a storied history of designing for the healthcare sphere. Its namesake and founder, Michael Graves, was paralyzed as a result of a spinal cord infection and spent 12 years in a wheelchair (until his death in 2015), during which time he became an expert in mobility devices and an advocate for accessible design. Continuing his legacy, the firm was quick to realize that partnering with a large retailer was an effective way to democratize its products — indeed, a Michael Graves–branded CVS cane costs only a few dollars more than a generic one.

As it turns out, the secret to making personal safety and mobility items more appealing can be distilled into two words: great design. “The goal was to incite a reaction of curiosity instead of pity,” explains Van Varick. To do this, the team created products that can easily be integrated into existing lifestyles and environments. “No one questions that you need an ice cream scoop to get ice cream out of a container. Why should these products be any different?” says Van Varick.

Healthcare products by Michael Graves for CVS

Take one of the line’s least glamorous items: the commode (shown at top). Doubling as a chair, it features a lid that, when lowered, resembles a cushiony seat (and conceals the easy-to-empty bucket); the lightweight aluminum legs have a satin nickel finish, a material carried throughout the Bathroom Safety line to give it “a cohesive design language.” This useful collection is only a start for the firm. “We have a list of more than 100 items that need to be redesigned in this category,” says Ben Wintner, the firm’s managing principal. It seems an expansion of the series is imminent — and if the existing pieces are any indication of what’s to come, personal aids are about to get a whole lot cooler.

Mobile medical clinic

Healthcare design often focuses on how to make care settings feel less institutional, more tranquil and better suited to healing. But what role can design play when the issue at hand isn’t atmosphere but lack of access?

That’s what New Delhi-based Architecture Discipline set out to explore when the pandemic took hold in India, where an already fragmented, underfunded and inaccessible healthcare system was buckling under the weight of skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers. Led by principal Akshat Bhatt, the firm developed the low-cost, easily installed prefab Life Community Medical Facility (LifeCMF) concept. The proposed building material was upcycled shipping containers: “They’re robust and available at a fairly economical price,” Bhatt explains. “[And], because they’re metal, they could be picked up by a forklift or crane, deployed and redeployed.”

Streamlined plywood interiors and colourful antibacterial vinyl flooring contribute to a calm and inviting atmosphere.

What started as a proposal quickly evolved into a practical solution. The Delhi government was implementing its Mohalla Clinics program, introduced in 2015 to improve access to medical services through neighbourhood-based primary care clinics; Architecture Discipline thought that by employing a scaled-down version of LifeCMF, they could help expedite the rollout in a time of dire need.

“The government was building these clinics out in an ad hoc manner, in a conventional way, where the fit-out would take four to six months. It was wet construction [with] a large footprint,” says Bhatt. His firm approached the government with detailed plans that would reduce a clinic’s footprint by 60 per cent (helping address the lack of space in dense urban areas) and save on costs, and was ultimately approved to build two prototypes.

Each clinic is constructed with two six-metre-long salvaged land shipping containers, restored and finished in a bold red. On the street-facing walls, sections of full-height, heat-resistant glazing feature a graphic decal that allows light to pour in while maintaining some privacy. Connected by a breezeway, the two containers form a linear floor plan comprising a reception area, examination room, washroom and pharmacy. Plywood lines the interiors, from the walls to the built-in seating and storage (lit by concealed LED strips), while vibrant pops of blue and orange in the antimicrobial vinyl flooring help enliven the space.

Mobile medical clinic
Painted bright red, the mobile medical clinics developed by New Delhi’s Architecture Discipline make an immediate impact. Frosted decals on the windows offer a level of privacy to those inside.

In April 2021, the clinics were deployed in two urban settlements in northwest Delhi. Construction and installation took two months, which included a forced delay of about six weeks during India’s devastating second wave. Since the facilities opened, they’ve become placemakers within their respective settings; Bhatt says he believes the government has been convinced to use prefabricated construction for future initiatives. A tender for 350 additional clinics will be released soon, but Architecture Discipline won’t compete; instead, they’re in discussions to share the plans and release the copyright so that the model can be replicated. Bhatt says the firm’s goal wasn’t to profit but to give back. “We have to design for social impact,” he explains. “We can’t keep designing and conversing in an esoteric manner.”

Cancer clinic design by RIOS

Warm, comforting and serene is not how cancer treatment centres are typically described. But then, the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC is far from typical. Doctor David Agus, the clinic’s founding director, “wants to change ‘the soil of the body’ so cancer can’t find a home anymore,” says Melanie Freeland, studio director at RIOS, the multidisciplinary Los Angeles firm responsible for the interiors of the method-busting centre that focuses on patient-forward cancer prevention, care and research.

Cancer clinic design by RIOS
Robert Indiana’s iconic HOPE sculpture signals the overall ambition of the cancer treatment clinic. Designed by RIOS, its interiors are replete with inviting elements like rich wood and “pocket parks” made up of planters bursting with greenery.

Agus’s “audacious” goal — combined with RIOS’s adept understanding of how “good design can support a desired narrative” — has resulted in a prime example of what modern-day healthcare could be. Occupying the top three levels of a five-storey building (recently completed by New York-based HLW), the 7,803-square-metre institute is defined by an exceptional amount of natural light, biophilic interventions and a residential-meets-hospitality aesthetic. Supporting both visiting patients and full-time staff that work in the space (which includes treatment rooms and offices, labs for researchers and fellowships, a pharmacy, teaching kitchen, history of medicine museum, conference rooms for public lectures and events, 325 square metres of outside terraces and more), the hard-working facility is intentionally the antithesis of institutional.

“Patients are not passive participants in the research, but get to see it firsthand.”
Melanie Freeland, Studio Director at RIOS

Thanks to glazing on three sides, light permeates the interiors — an attribute RIOS harnessed to full effect with an open atrium that spans all three levels, providing a strong visual connection from one floor to the next. “The notion of transparency is very important to the institute,” notes Freeland. “Patients are not passive participants in the research, but get to see it firsthand.” To that end, each tier is arranged around an internal pathway or “threshold” that acts as “connective tissue between the labs and the public areas.” This arrangement encourages movement and serendipitous encounters between patients, practitioners and researchers — public-facing labs on the fourth floor are fronted with glass walls to allow views in, for example.

Most of the private treatment rooms are located on the “cloud-like” fifth level, where curved walls and muted tones complement the intimacy of the space.

Throughout, richly toned Thermory wood elements, loungey upholstered furnishings and modern artworks (donated from the private collection of the institute’s benefactor and namesake, Lawrence J. Ellison) harmonize beautifully and bring the medical clinic to a human and accessible level. The entire idea behind the institute, according to Freeland, was to take away as many indicators of sickness as possible and emphasize wellness and healing. It’s a successful testament to how thoughtful design can bring hope to healthcare settings.