A Healing Breath by Design
As Rwanda continues its long recovery from genocide that killed hundreds of thousands in the mid-1990s, new challenges crop up, sometimes in surprising places.
After learning that outdated health care facilities were contributing to unacceptably high infant and maternal mortality rates, a Boston-based design firm took on the challenge. After extensive research and discussion with officials and residents in Nayanza, Rwanda, the firm designed a next-gen hospital that can address those unique problems and challenges. The project was highlighted in the sixth and final installment of SEEDocs, a series of short documentaries lauding outstanding on social, economic, and environmental design projects.
With one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, Rwanda loses over 40,000 infants, toddlers, and mothers each year; deaths that, in about 50% of cases, could have been prevented with improved hospital care.
Boston-based MASS Design isolated one of the major factors in these preventable deaths: poor air circulation. When patients sit in crowded hallways as waiting rooms, airborne disease spreads rapidly.
This irony of a place of healing making people sick created what MASS Design Executive Director Michael Murphy called “a crisis of design” that needed to be addressed in any improvements.
Sierra Bainbridge, Director of Implementation at MASS : “we can only build a really good building if we check in every step of the way and know that we’re understanding the clients.” Through frequent meetings and deep discussion, “that gets you to a level of design that you wouldn’t get to by responding to that first level request.”
The result of this investigation was solar chimneys – “a new ventilation concept that pulls fresh air up throughout the building, dramatically reducing the potential spread of disease.” This allows air to be refreshed 12 times per hour, meeting accepted standards for healthy hospitals.
In addition, the MASS design includes living spaces for hospital staff, better lighting and more spacious operating facilities. The building design is now complete, but funding for the project still is needed before the vision comes to fruition.
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Design Professions.