Anyone who has leafed through an architectural magazine has seen Rion Rizzo's work. A leading architectural photographer for the past 25 years, Rizzo has photographed restaurants, hotels, office buildings, public forums, and-with increasing frequency during the past 10 years-healthcare facilities. He not only shows off architects at their best, his approach to an assignment can determine whether a structure becomes a feature story, a cover shot or a design award winner. And he plays a key role in getting architects that next job. Recently HEALTHCARE DESIGN Editor, Richard L. Peck, asked Rizzo to reflect on his experiences with healthcare facilities, how they compare with the rest of the design world, and the trends he is seeing of late.

Richard L. Peck: How did you get started with the healthcare field?

Rion Rizzo: I've been doing architectural and interior design photography for the past 25 years, coming out of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. I had done some hospitality, education, and other commercial sector projects. I became connected with some of the most talented firms in architecture; some were already well established in healthcare, and others were venturing into the field. It's interesting that healthcare design, of late, has been moving in the direction of hospitality.

Peck: How in general does the healthcare design field compare with other fields of architectural design, in your view?

Northside Forsyth Womens Center

Northside Forsyth Womens Center

Rizzo: Probably the biggest difference is that the design intent is more multifaceted in healthcare-it encompasses service, healing spaces, spaces for staff around the clock, with attention to their comfort and morale, and community interaction with a variety of people-patients, families, visitors, staff-with the difficult challenge of trying to satisfy everyone.

Peck: What about the technological component-yet another challenge?

Rizzo: Years ago it was very much a challenge, because we would emphasize the beautiful work within the public spaces but the technical spaces, while functional, tended to be stark. Providers, however, began saying they didn't want these spaces to appear so sterile (in the sense of being stark, not of cleanliness), and didn't want just function without form. So currently there's some really nice design going on, with genuine thought given to patients' perceptions, and it's incumbent upon me to relay that via my images.
Northside Forsyth Womens Center

Northside Forsyth Womens Center

Peck: What sorts of trends have you seen of late in the diagnostic and treatment areas?

Rizzo: More use of natural materials, especially wood or “green” materials. One LDR I photographed recently had wood ceilings, while a post-op area had a wood grid pattern in the ceiling, a coffered effect. Because wood is a living material, it has a sense of warmth and of life to it. Also, colors used are much more earth-friendly-just altogether offer a warmer experience.

Peck: What do you like most about healthcare photography?

Rizzo: Architects are being challenged to create designs that allow healing and elevate the healing environment-and they're meeting that challenge. When I'm presented with a corridor with a patterned floor, a sensitive use of wood, a healing garden, columns wrapped in art glass or metal, it gives me more to work with.

Peck: And what do you like the least?

Rizzo: It's hard to say because change is going on constantly. I am always looking for ways to highlight a hospital or healthcare facility's best features. I sometimes joke, though, that it would be great if I could put the entire building on a Lazy Susan operated by my iPhone so that I could easily capture the exterior in the best light.

Peck: It's been noted in this magazine the occasional disjuncture between the photography of a project and the narrative its designers are trying to tell. Some features aren't photographed, some photos aren't discussed. Why does that happen and what can be done about it?

Rizzo: The main thing I do when I enter a project is to listen. A clear understanding of the designer's intent is crucial to ensure that the images we craft work in tandem with the narrative to relay the vision to the viewer. Helping the architect tell his or her story is my ultimate goal.

Peck: What is your view of the notion that facility exteriors might become a bit more adventurous in shape and overall presentation?

Rizzo: I could see that happening, particularly in relation to positioning patient rooms to best capture natural light-the building might be shaped to emphasize this. Maybe walls can become more curved and canted-in general, I look forward to design styles such as these. An important rationale for this sort of thing is that when a patient or visitor approaching a building where obvious thought has been given to its appearance might get the message that a lot of thought is given to the patient care inside as well.
Northside Forsyth Womens Center

Northside Forsyth Womens Center

Northwest Medical Center Oro Valley

Northwest Medical Center Oro Valley

Peck: Any parting thoughts?

Rizzo: I'd say that photographers see themselves as translators. We see an idea evolve from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional form-maybe even four-dimensional, when you take time and seasonal changes into account. We translate that back to a two-dimensional representation of the structure and spaces. We have many layers to convey with a healthcare project, it is a special challenge compared with other fields, and I think we have more opportunity to show the depth of the designer's specific contribution. HD

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Healthcare Design 2009 November;9(11):114-115