Dr Victoria Bates of the University of Bristol has been awarded a UK Research & Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship for the project ‘Sensing Spaces of Healthcare: Rethinking the NHS Hospital’. This project runs 2020-24 with the opportunity to extend until 2027. For updates on project progress – see:
Design is a pressing issue in healthcare. Poor hospital design impacts staff, patients and visitors, and critiques of hospitals are increasingly widespread. Such critiques often claim that we have lost ‘holistic’ design in healthcare and refer to historical examples to make their case, but draw repeatedly on the same few examples (Nightingale wards, sanatoria) and focus on their visual features (colour, light). This project offers a new way of approaching hospital history, for the benefit of hospital historians, designers and users. It focuses on more recent – and under-studied – hospitals of the National Health Service. It also rethinks the history of healthcare environments through the body and the senses, focusing on how places have felt rather than how they have looked.
Using a range of interdisciplinary methods, from archival research to site visits and participatory arts, the project will explore the recent history of the senses in hospitals. The project will consider how NHS hospital sensory environments (or ‘sensescapes’) changed as a result of new design trends, architecture, materials, technologies, nature and human behaviours. It will also consider how changing social, cultural, political, and economic factors shaped people’s embodied and affective experiences of the same ‘sensescapes’. Overall, by taking the senses as productive sites of interaction between people, technologies, materials and nature, this project will rethink the history of hospitals and provide new approaches for scholars of medical humanities and sensory studies.
The project’s findings will also feed into an imaginative rethinking of current and future hospital design, including the development of innovative multi-sensory design interventions for healthcare environments. In line with the UKRI strategy, the project will ‘identify and tackle the complex societal challenges that matter most to people, in partnership with them … with the aim of delivering maximum societal value’. It will work with Great Ormond Street Hospital (London), Southmead Hospital (Bristol) and Architects for Health to pinpoint issues or ‘problems’ for specific types of hospital user/worker or hospital spaces, which might range from sensory under-stimulation to sensory overload. In turn, these issues or challenges will form the basis for sensory design solutions through a prototyping and development process in collaboration with artists, designers, charities and NHS Trusts. These outputs will be produced with and of value to all those who use hospitals, from patients to professionals. Overall, the project offers a novel approach to the history of healthcare spaces that helps us to rethink hospital histories and their relevance to current-day design challenges.