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Design Treatments for Cancer Care

Design Treatments for Cancer Care

At the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City, physicians and scientists are encouraged to collaborate, with the idea that the marriage of minds will drive effective strategies to prevent, control – and ultimately cure – cancer in the future.

At the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City, physicians and scientists are encouraged to collaborate, with the idea that the marriage of minds will drive effective strategies to prevent, control – and ultimately cure – cancer in the future.

Last fall that collaborative ethos manifested itself in a partnership between MSKCC doctors, nurses, facilities staff and administrators and a trio of new RISD Architecture graduates, guided by faculty mentors. The group focused on two key design questions related to patient care: What should the clinic room of the future do? And what is the best design for a post-operative recovery floor where outpatients and their family members can rest after surgery?

In a guided internship designed by architect and former adjunct faculty memberAki Ishida and Professor Lynnette Widder, Warren Aftahi MArch 11, Catharine Rha MArch 11 and Taylor Wozniak BArch 11 interned at MSKCC’s Innovation Lab, attempting to answer those questions. MSKCC selected the three interns from a group of recent Architecture graduates recommended by the department for their talent, aptitude and interest in exploring solutions to healthcare needs.

In a departure from the typical summer internship format, Aftahi, Rha and Wozniak worked closely with MSKCC staff to understand the needs of patients but turned to Ishida and Widder for external design support. As their primary advisor, Ishida emphasized the importance of having the greatest possible level of involvement with the Center’s staff and patients in order to produce the best, most relevant work.

Ishida ensured that the interns “engaged highly accomplished doctors and nurses from the start by shadowing them during their work day and sitting in the exam rooms and the recovery floors, observing how they interact with patients,” she says. “Having the ability to receive feedback more readily within MSKCC’s own territory and being able to make appointments with the doctors and nurses to observe them as questions arose during the design process allowed for a more seamless, effective collaboration.”

Prescription for natural light

During the eight-week internship, Aftahi, Rha and Wozniak worked on how to combine the functions of the existing exam and consultation rooms within 120 square feet, and how to create post-surgery outpatient recovery rooms with visual and acoustic privacy that are both equipped to treat patients in the acute recovery phase and comfortable for visiting family members.

“One of the first observations the interns made was that the relationship to natural light in the facility seemed productive to study,” Widder notes. So she and Ishida involved other RISD alumni, notably well-known architectural glass and lighting expertJames Carpenter 72 IL and his partner Davidson Norris of Carpenter Norris Consulting, who presented on “Light and Wellbeing” – the effect of natural light – on both mental and physical health and helped the interns understand how to use the properties of natural light in architectural contexts.

“Much of their work centered around trying to create better access to natural light, especially for the short-stay recovery rooms,” Widder explains. “This meant looking at layouts in which either all individual rooms were naturally lit or the naturally lit spaces were allocated to communal purposes such as walking, sitting or meeting with family members. It also meant that the interns’ work included strategies for reflecting natural light as far as possible into the depth of the spaces.”

Other guest reviewers at presentations included Lauren Crahan BArch 96 and adjunct RISD professorJohn Hartmann, the co-founders of Freecell, a design and fabrication studio based in Brooklyn; andAlfred Zollinger BArch 90, who is an assistant professor of interior design at Parsons the New School for Design and co-principal of Matter Practice, an architecture and exhibition design firm.

The interns constructed a full-scale model of the clinic room, including furniture and lighting, which proved “to be extremely effective in testing various configurations and receiving direct feedback from the medical staff,” Ishida says. MSKCC also extended Rha’s and Wozniak’s internships by three weeks so that they could further develop the design of the recovery floor and build a full-size foamcore model of a recovery room. Both models are now being used for ongoing discussions among the stakeholders.

“The interactive process with the RISD architect graduates was an incredibly stimulating experience that resulted in innovative concepts for patient/physician interactions,” notes Dr.Paul Hamlin, clinical director of the Lymphoma Outpatient Unit. “These RISD graduates fully embraced the design process and engaged all of the health care providers in the iterative process.  Ultimately, the design team created an embracing space that will allow for a technologically modern experience while maintaining the very important intimate and personal aspects of the physician/patient encounter.”

Being exposed to the views of this diverse group of talented designers and architects while working on site at MSKCC was the perfect recipe for finding design solutions that meet the needs of the facility’s community. “One of the most valuable things we accomplished through this guided internship was to introduce both young architects and the medical professionals they worked with to an interactive design process that allowed for fruitful multidisciplinary discussions,” Ishida concludes.