In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

Here, Brett Oliver, landscape architect, and Marcus Cantu, landscape designer, at Copley Wolff Design Group (Boston) reflect on their experience constructing the landscape for the Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais (HUM) in Haiti and the challenges and opportunities with designing for healthcare within strict means.

1. Using landscape features to reduce air-borne disease

Copley Wolff Design Group worked with Partners in Health (Boston), a global health organization, to understand how the differences in healthcare availability between the United States and Haiti would pose several challenges to the doctors and patients on a daily basis. A main concern was keeping the hospital clean and sterile from diseases. One way to address this was by utilizing courtyard gardens and breezeways to increase the natural airflow and ventilation of the building, which helps to combat airborne illnesses, such as tuberculosis.

2. Importance of outdoor spaces

The majority of the hospitals in Haiti lack outdoor areas where patients can start their recovery or families can wait while their loved ones are being treated. At HUM, we carried the beauty of Haiti’s countryside into the design of the courtyards by creating outdoor spaces that promote feelings of comfort and tranquility for patients and their families. These efforts were affirmed when a local woman walking through the new grounds commented that it was the most beautiful space she had ever seen in her country. (Click on slideshow for images.)

3. Need for adaptability

Projects don’t always go according to plan, which means a design team needs to be creative in developing solutions to challenges that arise during construction. Once we arrived in Haiti, the original plans created for HUM by URS (Tampa, Fla.) needed to be altered due to material availability and budget constraints.  The building materials in the plan were readily available in the U.S., but not in Haiti. The team adjusted the plan accordingly, specifying resources available in Haiti to create a native landscape. The hospital’s features now include two large interior courtyards, breezeways, and several walkways.

4. Thinking about sustainability in more ways than one

In an effort to foster energy efficiency and adhere to sustainable trends, the hospital uses solar panels to power the entire complex during the day. Taking it a step further, the original plans for the hospital were adapted to focus on using materials from local markets. For example, the original plan for the interior courtyard called for using plants that would have to be shipped from Florida. Instead, the decision was made to purchase the plant materials from nearby nurseries in an effort to sustain the local economy. These meaningful features have also allowed community members to feel a deeper connection to the new building.

5. Maintaining budgets calls for creative problem solving

The construction of HUM was made possible through the generous donations of supporters and had a rigid budget. Due to the size of the facility, a large amount of outdoor space needed surface treatments. Plant materials were not always the best and most economical solution, so the team chose to use decorative gravel from the local cement plant to stabilize the exposed soil. The material also allowed adequate drainage to eliminate the potential for standing water, which could ultimately contribute to illness carried by mosquitoes.

Brett Oliver (Photo: Luke O’Neill)

Marcus Cantu (Photo: John Soares)

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