In healthcare design, you can't bury your mistakes and you certainly CAN'T plant vines!

June 30, 2009
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In healthcare design, you can't bury your mistakes and you certainly CAN'T plant vines!

When President Bill Clinton presented Michael Graves with the National Medal of Arts in 1999, he suggested that an architect's challenge is more daunting than a physician's, quoting master architect Frank Lloyd Wright: “After all, the doctor can bury his mistake, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.” Any architect or design professional who has experienced the complexity and high stakes involved in designing healthcare settings might take issue with that “either-or” assertion. Today's healthcare design professionals and healthcare leaders understand the role the built environment can play in impacting clinical and financial outcomes.

Michael Graves

Michael Graves

The definition of what constitutes a healthcare facility is changing, and it's changing rapidly. Architects and designers must be willing to continually push the boundaries of design to help achieve the outcomes their clients are looking for. Every year, the HEALTHCARE DESIGN conference provides an opportunity to interact with and learn from innovative, leading thinkers in the healthcare design community in a collegial setting. This year presents an exciting opportunity to hear directly from someone who has been has been credited with broadening the role of the architect in society and raising public interest in good design as essential to the quality of everyday life; someone every student of architecture has studied-architect and designer Michael Graves, FAIA, who will deliver the conference's opening keynote address.

While many of his colleagues in the healthcare design industry could be called building specialists, Graves considers himself a “general practitioner.” The traditional concept of “architect” is almost too narrow a classification to describe his appetite for design. A native of Indianapolis, Graves received his architectural training at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University. His practice has evolved into two firms: Michael Graves & Associates, which provides architecture, master planning, and interior design services; and Michael Graves Design Group, which specializes in product and graphic design, as well as branding services. He is most commonly recognized through his designs for domestic products that are sold at Target stores throughout the United States. The architectural practice has designed more than 350 buildings worldwide encompassing many building types, including healthcare facilities. The product design practice has designed more than 2,000 consumer products, which include a wide variety of consumer products for home, office, and personal use, as well as building components such as lighting, hardware, bath, and kitchen products.

In 2003, a sudden illness left him paralyzed from the chest down. Confined to a wheelchair, Graves' healthcare sector designs are now informed with his deeper understanding of the importance of accessibility and patient-centered design. Six years after the illness that changed him forever, Graves and his team are working on several healthcare design projects, including a line of home healthcare products that fuse one-dimensional medical utility with style, multifunctional elegance, and beauty.

Graves believes that hospitals and other healthcare facilities can fail humanistically on two levels: first, by not functioning well for those who work in them, and second, by not creating aesthetic environments that patients can interact with in calming ways to facilitate healing. In thinking about healthcare design, his aim is to encourage the impressions of familiarity, by focusing on buildings and products that make caregiving easier, while allowing the objects and environments to be seen in a slightly different way. Given that the ultimate goal for Graves is to combine simple utility, functional innovation, and formal beauty, he feels that there is no reason why objects in healthcare environments cannot have a symbolic function, as well as a pragmatic one.

In anticipation of what promises to be an engaging, deeply personal and inspirational address, Graves was asked to share some of his design philosophy and approach to healthcare projects.

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