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

Someone once described architecture as “frozen music.” There's a type of architecture, though that, to me, is more like “frozen math.” It is shown most dramatically in the works of the architect/engineers, such as Felix Candela, Piero Nervi, Robert Mallart, and Santiago Calatrava. Their work embodies the mathematical working out of complex forces in sculptural form. And, to put it simply, I've been hung up on this sort of thing of late, admiring the published examples and looking for more.

Which has led me to wonder from time to time: Why isn'tthere more evidence of this conceptualization in healthcare design? There's no question that today's glassy and attractively complex and colorful exteriors are a major step up from the weighty brick and concrete monuments of yesteryear. But when, I wondered, would we see interesting building shapes in their own right-the purest “frozen math” out there?

I think my wait is over. Some startling examples of imaginative sculptural healthcare design have emerged in recent months. Without giving away the store-we plan to publish articles on all of these in coming months-I'dlike to briefly describe a few examples of what's coming.

Perhaps the most notable (or should I say notorious) example is Frank Gehry's first foray into major healthcare design (aside from the small Maggie's Centre clinic in England that we published a few years back): the Cleveland Clinic Ruvo Center for Brain Health, located in Las Vegas. As I said, I won'tgo into detail here. But imagine what almost any Frank Gehry structure, post-CATIA, would look like these days. A major portion of the structure is said to resemble the folds of the human brain, fittingly enough for a brain health/Alzheimer's facility. It is scheduled for completion late this year.

A couple of examples come from overseas. A children's clinic in Darmstadt, Germany, by the firm Angela Fritsch Architekten, resembles a gracefully swooping four-leaf clover. Angela Fritsch, it turns out, was a sculptor before she studied architecture. As for the other example, a Finnish facility called Espoo Hospital is an award-winning free-form abstract shape, as designed by the international firm K2S and reported in the always-informative http://WorldArchitectureNews.com.

Closer to home, finally, is the Unique Design Identity branding program begun recently by Pratt Design Studio of Chicago, Illinois. Bob Pratt and colleagues are coming up with iconic “brand” designs that can be imprinted in precast (or poured material) hospital faéades and reinterpreted throughout the facility in various formats. The main idea behind this is to move away from the smooth, untroubled surfaces of the Modern style and more toward the visual character, texture, and excitement of fellow Chicagoan Louis Sullivan's works at the turn of the 20th century. Pratt says he is looking toward even more sculptural interpretations of this concept down the road.

These approaches may well not be everyone's cup of tea. There is something to be said, after all, for the clean, simple, strong look and all that it connotes for healthcare. But for anyone looking for extra excitement, diversion, and inspiration in this field, these exercises in “frozen math” are an intriguing way to go!. HD

Healthcare Design 2009 June;9(6):56