“Reflections” is a new column featuring thoughts and commentary by former HEALTHCARE DESIGN Editor-in-Chief Richard L. Peck

One thing I've learned about myself-I am learning all the time. I once thought years ago that, by now, I would have learned pretty much all I needed to know about life. But what's the sense of getting older if you can't get smarter? I think I am smarter-in some ways-but I'm also more acutely aware of what I don't know, and how surprising and intriguing life can be the more one experiences it.

These philosophical ruminations were prompted recently by my purchasing a rather odd-shaped little book-about the size of three side-by-side iPhones-called 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. Its author, Matthew Frederick, is a Boston-based architect/urban designer who notes in his forward that he could have used these simple, clear, at times even profound facts and observations about Architecture when he went through school. Many of his 101 things do set out basic tenets of architectural drawing, planning, use of color and so forth-but some go quite a bit further than that. Some provoked considerable thought and re-evaluation for this perpetual student of Architecture, your humble correspondent. To wit:

#8: “Architecture is the thoughtful making of spaces” (a quote from Louis Kahn). A fascinating way to think about building, not as a particular structure-house, office building, hospital-but as an enclosure of purpose-designed spaces designed to realize the aesthetic and functional goals of the program, both in detail and as a whole.

Any design decision should be justified in at least two ways. Frederick alludes to the many simultaneous purposes to which an individual design feature may be put-a stair, for example, not only allowing foot traffic from floor to floor, but possibly serving as an eye-catching sculptural element or as a wayfinding device. It reminds me of the many ingenious, structurally integrated wayfinding systems we've covered in this magazine over the years.

Engineers tend to be concerned with physical things in and of themselves. Architects are more directly concerned with the human interface with physical things. I'm not too sure about that one. Engineers do specialize in HVAC systems, lighting, structure, and the like. But it seems more and more, of late, that they're working directly with architects to achieve unconventional and highly attractive solutions to overall facility design. The most spectacular of these, of course, is the one-man collaboration of architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava Valls, whose structural engineering mastery pushes buildings and bridges into forms one never thought possible. But there are many other not so monumental but nevertheless arresting examples of this new blend emerging these days.

An aesthetic quality is usually enhanced by the presence of a counterpoint. Here Frederick makes the point that the aesthetic appeal of a space or feature is enhanced, sometimes dramatically so, by juxtaposing it with its opposite-for example, a soaring atrium next to low-ceilinged waiting spaces and corridors; expanses of rough stone walls and glass; windows vertical and horizontal; curving corridors terminated by lounge areas and nursing stations, all of which have been published in HEALTHCARE DESIGN. I've observed these striking juxtapositions all my life in the forms of storytelling, music and graphic art, but I never recognized the principle.

It is experiences like this that explain to me why the world, so wearying in so many ways, ultimately remains fresh. HD

Healthcare Design 2010 January;10(1):56