IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Stefan Sick (SBS AG)
“Lighting is central to architecture”
By: Jessica Merkens
“I wanted to learn how to build spaces where people felt comfortable”
In the middle of the beautiful Swiss alps architect Stefan Sick of SBS AG was challenged to design a hospital that doesn’t feel like a hospital for its patients. How did he manage to bring the calming mountainous surroundings and lush green mountain pastures inside? A closer look at the creation of the Oberengadin hospital.
The Oberengadin hospital provides basic medical care for locals and guests in the Engadine and is thereby firmly anchored in its environment. On top of that it is located in a place where you can admire the beautiful view of the mountain landscape. “It was immediately clear to the client and to us that the basis for the entire design must be the natural environment of this place. It provides the optimal conditions for a design in which people feel comfortable and can recover quickly”, Sick explains.
One important aspect architects face is to always know who you’re designing for. That’s probably even more essential when designing for patients or the elderly. For Sick, this realisation came pretty early on in his career. “I wanted to become an architect who knows exactly how to construct buildings but who, above all, knows what people need to be happy in a building. In the field of architecture, my interest was in people. We don't build buildings for the architects, nor exclusively for the architecture and design, we build for the people and their needs.”
Does designing for a specific group of users - in this case patients - differ from other projects? Mostly on a technical level, he explains. In a hospital, next to different medical processes that take place, there are certain medical aids that are absolutely necessary in the interior. “The art is to arrange these aids in a very practicable way for the patients but also for the nursing staff. And to also integrate them in such a way that they do not visually destroy the overall picture and ultimately do not trigger the familiar bad hospital feeling in people.” In the end, the design must also ‘convey a sense of security and trust to people’, he says.
Ancient Italian streets
It was in the ancient Italian streets of Florence and Siena where Sick was captivated by the world of architecture for the first time, when visiting the Italian cities with his parents as a kid. Later on, after a trip to Paris as a teenager, he knew for sure he wanted to become an architect. “I was fascinated on the one hand by the modern buildings but also by the space in which people live and move. I wanted to learn how to build spaces where people felt comfortable.”
One important lesson he learned along the way was to always put people first. “If the basics and needs are not clarified at the beginning of a project, the project will eventually stall and you'll start doing expensive and time-consuming additional loops”, he says. Together with his business partner Christine Frey he has defined a clear cut process principle. ‘Talk, think, plan, revise and implement’. Sick explains: “Hospitals, nursing homes, apartments for the elderly, office and industrial buildings - they all have one thing in common: the arrangement and size of the rooms influences peoples behavior in everyday life and thus the operating costs. That's why we fuse architecture, process consulting and communication right from the start.”
Photo: Oberengadin Hospital
Photo: Oberengadin Hospital
What makes the design of the Oberengadin hospital so special? “The architecture subordinates itself to the process of medicine. This is a good thing. The architecture thereby becomes clear-cut. Next to that we chose materials and the design that blend in with the beautiful landscape of the Engadine.”
There were two challenging issues at the beginning of the project, Sick says. “On the one hand, it was clear from the beginning that the existing building fabric had to be dealt with because a new building was out of the question. And on the other hand, that although the existing hospital had enough space for the future, it was not being used and operated efficiently enough at the time. Besides, of course, the ‘look and feel’ was not up to date and did not help the sick people very much in the recovery process.” Together with the client a comprehensive master plan was developed that would span multiple years. “Implementation then began in annual projects. In this way, it was possible to react continuously to current strategic issues and to take the latest medical advances into account along the way.” Because of the structured master plan and all parties - including user, client and financiers - were involved in the process from a very early stage, the project was spared from any real setbacks.
The flower of life
How does proper lighting aid in designing a healthy environment? “Lighting is central to architecture. It can be used to create beautiful moods, emphasise materials or even as a design element”. Sick thinks. Although it is important to distinguish between basic lighting and ambient or mood lighting. “Basic lighting should be as discreet as possible in the background and provide the room with sufficient illumination. Ambient or mood lighting should create interesting zones, highlight materials, serve orientation and also allow medical equipment, which can be disruptive to the overall design, to recede into the background.”
Together with TRILUX a special luminaire was created that also encompassed the ‘sgraffito’, a local speciality of the Engadine. “It is a handicraft that decorates countless Engadine houses and contributes to the unmistakable charm of the villages. One element of these ‘sgraffito’ is the flower of life. We have included this element in a wide variety of places in the hospital. The fact that we managed with TRILUX to also unite this symbol with a luminaire was of course the crowning glory.”
Photo: Oberengadin Hospital
Lighting is central to architecture