Several years ago when my husband and I were in Hangzhou, China, to adopt our daughter, we visited a local hospital to treat an ear infection that she had developed. I was struck by the differences between U.S. hospitals and Chinese hospitals in this community along the Yangtze River Delta 112 miles south of Shanghai.

I talked with HGA colleague Dan Polachek, AIA, NCARB, a design principal in our healthcare practice group. He has collaborated with Chinese architectural teams from the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design (BIAD) on several healthcare projects in China and the United States, and also has partnered with several Chinese firms on four large medical-campus competitions in China.

“Despite our cultural, geographic and political differences, Chinese and American architects share some very strong traits that can result in successful design collaborations,” Dan says. “We love to take on great challenges and we applaud creativity and ingenuity.”

China’s economic growth has created unprecedented opportunities for the architectural profession. “I have seen Chinese architects make tremendous strides over the years, and I understand and respect their desire to have a greater hand in re-shaping and preserving their built environment,” Dan continues.
He further notes that Chinese traditions can greatly impact the planning of a healthcare building and interior, so it’s essential that foreign team members understand and respect these influences. The goal is to meld creative design ideas with advanced planning and building technologies in ways that respect and support the cultural and social values of the community it serves.
“As a healthcare architect, I brought an understanding of how to design and plan an integrated western healthcare campus,” Dan says. “But I also learned a great deal about planning and designing traditional Chinese medical facilities, which hold lessons for western medical practices, as well.”
Here are a few ideas we can adapt from our Chinese colleagues:

  • Chinese hospitals require that all patient rooms have exposure to sunlight. Access to daylight and other natural elements forces hospital design to be more environmentally focused.

  • Chinese caregivers take a more holistic approach to diagnosing and treating patients. Their regimens include a broader range of natural medicines and therapies, which are less costly and invasive than many western techniques.
  • Family members also play a more integral role in assisting and administering care in China. The immense patient population and lack of skilled caregivers have brought a need for greater family involvement in treating loved ones, but it in effect brings families closer together in critical times and brings the element of love deeper into the healing process. Truly, this is something our society can benefit from.
  • All public building projects in China are awarded through design competitions, including healthcare facilities. While much has been written about the pros and cons of the competition process in China, a positive aspect of this process is the environment for creative thinking and ideas that emerge as a result.
  • We have begun to see more of this creative thinking happen in western healthcare design now as we continue to search for better ways to design healing environments. Given the pace at which the world and its cultures are coming together, it seems only natural that the sharing and learning process between East and West should truly be a two-way street.