Archive for August, 2009

We’ve been experimenting with condensing years of thinking and practice into max.18-slide “short stories.”  Here is the latest of three stories: Hospitals are Sacred Spaces  In this set we acknowledge Joe Pine, who with his colleague Jim Gilmore introduced us to The Experience Economy exactly ten years ago. His current thinking on authenticity: TED Talk: What Consumers Want  is especially relevant for hospital patients and families. Two other slide stories can be found here: Nursing Focused Design and here: Why Hospital Design Matters  Don’t forget to use Full Screen viewer!!

Guy Laliberté, founder and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, should be recognized as one of the great urbanists of North America.

While many of us have been mesmerized by his extraordinary Vegas or Florida performances, these locations are neither real nor particularly urban. By contrast, his Les Chemins Invisible is stunning on both counts. Having begun his theatrical adventure in Quebec, he has given Quebec City the gift of a free public event  four nights a week during the summer for the next four years.

So what would be the best venue within the city for such a gift?  A park (need a tent)? A rented warehouse (need a roof to support the lights, speakers and performance hooks, while incurring extra costs)?  Instead, Laliberté  placed his performance under the Autoroute Dufferin-Montmorency highway overpass in a desolate, abandoned piece of the old city. A formerly neglected spot is now an energetic focal point for the city. What a mind!

Last Sunday when I was there with my family, it was a typical summer of 2009 night—stormy and rainy.  Audience members and the 100 or so performers were protected by the overpass as we stood in awe of the performance. We were only dimly aware of the raging rain around us, while cars and lights whizzed by overhead.    

Who would have thought that such a forgotten place could become an exceptionally memorable part of the city? What Guy Laliberté has shown us is a different way to envision the forgotten places of our cities. He has turned an invisible space into something special and much sought after. For me, it opened my eyes to other spots we ignore.

In Toronto we have struggled with barriers that keeps us from our waterfront. In June Les Klein, a partner at Quadrangle Architects, put forward a much-celebrated idea to transform a section of the Gardiner Expressway into  an elevated green walkway . How can we also re-imagine what happens below this urban space? 

 Les Chemins Invisible: a street event created by Cirque du Soleil for Quebec City, June 24-Sept 6, 2009. Make a point of seeing the evening show, then going back in the daytime.  

 – Tye Farrow

What would it look like if the Canadian health care system actually produced “patient-centred care”?  I mean, what evidence would we see in front of our eyes? Given that patients are human, I would expect to see places that looked humane. These places would look humane because they demonstrated obvious understanding for what it means to be in a vulnerable state.

After decades of loose talk about patient-focused care by various agencies, Jennifer Graham reports from the Canadian Medical Association’s annual meeting that these words are still up for discussion: “Dr. Robert Ouellet, the current president of the CMA has said there’s a critical need to make Canada’s health-care system patient-centred. He will present details from his fact-finding trip to Europe in January, where he met with health groups in England, Denmark, Belgium Netherlands and France. His thoughts on the issue are already clear. Ouellet has been saying since his return that “a health-care revolution has passed us by.”

Incoming CMA president Dr. Anne Doig says “we all have to participate in discussions around how we do that and of course how do we pay for it.”   

What’s the solution? How can those well-intentioned words begin to match reality? Is it only about “efficient care” or “activity-based costing” or is it also about something deeply rooted in our view of the patient experience? 

The Finnish modern master architect, Alvar Aalto, in his Paimio tuberculosis sanatorium of 1933 demonstrated how a humanitarian approach to the architecture of hospitals could provide comfort to  patient at their weakest moment. His thoughts are summarized by Colin St John Wilson in Alvar Aalto: through the eyes of Shigeru Ban; a good read.

In Aalto’s extensive writing, including his 1940 piece The Humanizing of Architecture, he revealed the struggles he was facing in his professional practice between the emerging forms of modern architecture. His own work drew on the philosophies of naturalists John Ruskin and William Morris’s “democratic architecture.” This was in contrast to the prevailing trend of modern architects at the time toward, for example, Le Corbusier’s view of the house as a “machine for living.”

In response Aalto writes, “. . . the newest phase of modern architecture tries to project rational methods from the technical field out to human and psychological fields.” As Aalto points out, humans have a deep need for human responses that don’t conform to a rational mechanical method, and stated that “architecture is only authentic when Man is at the centre, grounded in human priorities.”

It seems to me that the incoming CMA president could benefit by looking at the evolution of modern architecture in terms of how it could truly put patients at the centre of care. As our aging hospital “infrastructure” is replaced, decisions must be made about humane physical environments. The delivery of care, as in the creating hospital architecture, is an equal mix of the science and art of healing.

– Tye Farrow

One reason so many architects love design competitions is that a finished concept can be produced without much involvement from clients and the public. Traditional architect selection committees—under pressure to appear objective—are routinely seduced by the logic of this age-old process of working in isolation. On the surface, design competitions aim to avoid messy human bias by focusing on each scheme’s perceived merits. But efforts to sell a remote designer’s finished solution can sometimes be bad for everybody.

While there are countless examples of beloved structures that resulted from such contests, I question three common assumptions that keep this hands-off approach alive:

 1.  An architects’ vision will be compromised through public engagement at the pre-design stage

2.  Visionary, meaningful decisions happen without engaging everyone (including the architect) in a learning process

3.  The public will be inclined to quickly grasp and embrace a sales pitch for the winning design scheme

As Web 2.0 participation reveals, people have an enormous appetite for making better choices by engaging in good conversation. I believe that clients’ interests would be better served through a selection process that involved spending quality time with each short-listed design team, rather than paying architects to work out competing designs in isolation.

A new era of selection criteria could include: How inquisitive are the designers who want to work on my project? How adept are they at sharing their thinking and de-mystifying their approach? How do they plan to engage the public in a conversation about shared aspirations, or defining the community’s self-image, or identifying the economic benefits of distinctive design?

Recent controversy around Santiago Calatrava’s proposed bridge design for Calgary raises interesting questions regarding naysayers, civic spunk and design process. The Globe and Mail‘s Lisa Rochon challenges Calgary to evolve into a “…a more visually enticing metropolis.” Cliff Kuang, writing for Fast Company in “How Not to Market a Big Public Works Project” advocates that city planners worldwide “…at the very least, hold a public competition to spur people’s imaginations.”

For years I felt uneasy about the risks of attempting to sell design answers to disengaged clients. Then I read Michael Schrage’s book, Serious Play, which provided my ka-boing! moment by explaining the true value of putting heads together over rough models and un-solidified ideas.

Consider also the negative financial impact on fee-squeezed design firms; in order to win a competition, teams typically spend many times over the amount they are paid to participate. This raises a question as to whether the best eye-opening ideas—or eye-catching graphics and videos—win the competition.

 Instead of jumping to the conclusion that design competitions = better results, let’s pay more attention to creating informed critics and enthusiastic champions through inquiry, dialogue and discovery.

– Sharon VanderKaay




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    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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