Michael Graves: A Case for Humanistic Solutions in Healthcare Design

On Wednesday, March 26, NYSID welcomed noted architect and designer Michael Graves, who presented a lively and informative talk entitled A Case for Humanistic Solutions in Healthcare Design. Graves is well known for planning the architecture and interiors of over 350 buildings worldwide, including hotels and resorts, restaurants, retail stores, civic and cultural projects, office buildings, healthcare, residences and a wide variety of academic facilities. Graves is also known for his product designs—designing everything from teapots to furniture to wrist watches. He is now at the forefront of healthcare design, addressing some of healthcare’s greatest challenges by putting patients first with common sense design solutions.  View the video of Michael Graves entire lecture here

NYSID president David Sprouls welcomed Graves, as a "longtime friend of the College. He has been on our Advisory Board for more than a decade and serves as a program advisor for our one-year Master of Professional Studies program in Healthcare Interior Design, one of the only programs in the country focused on interior design and healthcare."

Graves shared with the audience the foundations of his design philosophy and how a personal healthcare tragedy has focused his attention on improving healthcare experiences by design. “Have you ever sat in a wheelchair and tried to do accomplish simple everyday tasks?” Graves asked the audience. He said that he often poses this challenge to both healthcare practitioners, architects/designers, and design students to illustrate the wide gap between current healthcare practices and good design. Grave shared images of his first rehab room and pointed out the opportunities for improved design resulting in a safer and more hygenic environment and more patient privacy.

He showed his designs for hospital-room chairs that aid sitting and standing, and his innovations to prevent infections such as better drains for showers and bedside tables designed for easier cleaning by hospital staff. One of his most revolutionary designs is for the Prime TC wheelchair, which transformed a ubiquitous hospital item that has not changed since the 1930s. The design was driven by three main concerns: comfort, safety and mobility -- for the patient, the caregiver, and the patient escort. The smart design creates a more ergonomic chair and helps to prevent infections from dirt on facility floors by simply changing the chair’s mobility mechanism from being driven by patients’ hands touching the wheels.  

Graves also spoke about the humanistic touches which can aid healing in environments. He designed universally accessible single-family homes as part of the Wounded Warrior Home Project at Fort Belvoir that are intended to better serve wounded soldiers and their families as they remain on active duty. He is also currently working on a project for Madonna Rehabilitation Center, which included “family alcoves,” patient-adjacent rooms functioning as living rooms or bedrooms for overnight stays by family members. Similar to the philosophy behind the design of Maggie’s Centres (an exhibition currently on view at the NYSID Gallery), Graves advocates that the needs and comfort of healthcare workers also must be considered.

Graves said that it is not only the design of healthcare facilities, but also the design of our homes that need to be safe for people and their lifestyles as they age . The enthusiastic audience joined Graves in the gallery where conversations on the revolutions in healthcare design continued.

Phyllis Greer