When Michael Graves lost his ability to walk in 2003, after a sinus infection infiltrated his nervous system – impairing his spinal cord, he had to learn to navigate the world from his wheelchair. However, while going through that difficult time, he became frustrated that the places that were supposed to make him feel empowered, like rehab centers and hospitals, did not. Graves felt helpless when he could not reach the faucet to brush his teeth or the outlet to plug in his shaver. Everything about the room was designed for people who could stand. Since then, the award-winning architect has been on a mission to revamp hospital furnishings and living spaces so they fit the patients, families and medical staff who use them.
“I decided that since I was a designer, and architect and a patient, I have the credentials to do this,” Graves said Oct. 15 at the inaugural Wired Health Conference.
The projects are part of a growing movement called human-centered design, which aims to redefine how people experience health care by focusing on their specific needs. Because the rehab center Graves used served mostly people in wheelchairs, it should have had electrical outlets higher on the wall and mirrors lower. But, it didn’t have either.
Graves is trying to stamp out the cues that make hospitals unpleasant — outdated furniture, lights that use pull strings that too often break, chairs and beds that are as uncomfortable as they are ugly. His designs, informed by research he and his team did in some 40 hospitals, soften patient rooms by adding splashes of color and give them a friendlier feel by rounding edges.
Michael Graves Design Group & Stryker Medical
In 2009, Graves formed a design partnership with one of the top medical technology companies, Stryker. The companies conducted months of ethnographic research, studying the environment and the way current furniture is being used. The result is an array of patient room furniture which demonstrates Graves’ philosophy that objects in healthcare environments can have a symbolic as well as a pragmatic function, with straightforward solutions that combine simple utility, functional innovation and elevated aesthetics. These pieces are now in about 20 hospitals.
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Swedish/Issaquah Medical Center in Issaquah, WA (Designed by CollinsWoerman) - featuring Vivid Shadow tile
Image: Michael Graves Design Group