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Merging architecture & medical sciences

During the past 15 years, architect Rang Emei has worked alongside some of the most well-respected international healthcare design teams on major hospital projects in India, Bangladesh & the Middle-East. He comments on the scenario of healthcare architecture in India and his own experiences from starting as a novice to growing in to an expert in this field.

From the time when, as a nine year old kid, I made a coloured drawing of the house I was staying in and sent it to my dad back home, to right through high school and college years, art and design have been of special interest to me. In the final years of school (at Daly College, Indore), our engineering drawing teacher used to bring architecture & design books to class for us to see and understand the various applications of technical drawing. That spurred my curiosity and interest in building design.

I went on to pursue architecture at the School of Architecture & Planning, Madras and further on, studied Urban Design at the School of Planning & Architecture, New Delhi. While the architecture course equipped me with the basics of building design and construction, Urban Design generated an appreciation of the multitude of human activities that shape our built-environment and how the design of the environments we create, in turn, impact the way we live, work, commute & communicate. It made me look at design from a much more holistic and humane (and people-oriented) perspective. The inter-connection of everything in the city became more apparent.

The early years of my professional life as an apprentice with architect A. G. Krishna Menon, New Delhi, were spent working on the designs of some very interesting projects like the Akshardham Temple Complex (Gandhinagar) and ISKCON Temple Complex (Mayapur), besides other projects. Then, like a thousand other architects and design professionals, I too indulged in a little bit of freelancing – designing houses, office interiors – for and along with a few other architects.

In the late ‘90’s, I strayed into the field of healthcare architecture not so much out of love for hospitals or medicine but more out of curiosity and the urge to do something different from what I had being doing till then. As a member of the hospital design team of Apollo Hospitals Group, New Delhi, I had the opportunity to work on the design of many large-scale multi-speciality tertiary-care hospitals in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the Middle East. It was learning-on-the-go all the way. It was akin to doing a hands-on course in healthcare design. Unlike a classroom course, whatever we drew on paper were quickly realized into three dimensional hospital buildings for us to experience live. It was exhilarating, to say the least.

I was also fortunate to have participated (in the capacity of specialist healthcare architect) in the design of Kokilaben Dhirubai Ambani Hospital at Andheri West, Mumbai. In terms of medical technology systems and services, Kokilaben Hospital was one of the most well-equipped private sector hospitals in the country at that time. Thereafter, I relocated to the Middle- East to work on more healthcare facility projects there. Two years after returning to India, along with a team of dedicated design professionals, I started Helix Healthcare Architecture in April 2013, a design firm focused purely on the design of healthcare facilities. We now have projects (in various stages of design and construction) in multiple cities across the country as well as overseas locations.

Hospital architecture today

In the last twenty years, healthcare facilities, especially in the private sector, have undergone significant transformations in the way they are funded, conceived, planned, designed, built and operated. Today, healthcare facility projects are much more complex in terms of clinical function programming and their operating strategies than they were twenty years ago. After having been a design participant in the design of more than eighty healthcare facility projects in various geographies, I have come to realize that no two hospitals are (nor can be), exactly the same, even if their functional programs are exactly the same.

In the planning and design of Nayati Hospital, Mathura, ‘efficiency’ was the driving factor and underlying theme throughout the design process. Building location within the five-acre site, building footprint size and profile were determined to ensure efficiency in terms of land utilization, intra-site traffic flow, future expandability and high visibility from the city road.

Simplicity in intra-building circulation pattern and access to natural light & view are some of the key characteristics which have been built into the design of this hospital. The circulation corridors and the structuring of people movement patterns within the building have been kept as easily ‘readable’ and ‘imageable’ as possible and as appropriate. In terms of interior physical spaces for necessary clinical/non-clinical functions and support functions, extra care was taken to ensure that every square foot was accounted for.

Besides the complexity and the dynamic nature of the healthcare service sector, what has sustained my interest in this field is the fact that we, as healthcare design professionals, are participants in the process of creating supportive physical environments for people when they may be at some of life’s weakest and most vulnerable moments. This fact and knowledge, I think, makes a healthcare designer’s role even more meaningful.

Healthcare facilities are big electrical energy guzzlers. The slim floor plates of this facility ensures daylight access to a majority of the interior spaces, thus reducing the dependency on electric lights. The orientation of the building also ensures that most of the inpatient rooms are protected from the hot Indian sun. Likewise, various features have been incorporated in the design of all engineering systems to ensure lower energy consumption throughout the year.

In the context of Mathura and the surrounding region, the design is meant to be aspirational for the local population. Most walls (exterior and interior) of the RCC framed structure are of burnt clay bricks which is locally available and cost effective. Eco-friendly resilient flooring has been proposed in all clinically-sensitive areas and nursing units. For high footfall areas, locally available, low-maintenance, high resistance, anti-skid ceramic tiles and stone tiles are proposed.

Every pro ject has it s own peculiarities, challenges, constraints, opportunities, priorities and operational strategies. Also, healthcare service delivery models continue to evolve. Rapid advancement in the field of medical sciences and technology, evolving building regulations and facility accreditation requirements add to the complexity in terms of operations, planning and design. This, to me, makes healthcare design challenging and interesting.

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