While in the decades following Modernism healthcare buildings typically embraced a rationalized, purely purpose-focused building culture this approach is thankfully undergoing changes at present: The emphasis is increasingly on the patient. At the start of 2019, Studio Snøhetta presented treehouse architecture in the guise of its Outdoor Care Retreatfor Oslo Teaching University Hospital and Sørlandet Hospital in Kristiansand. Designed on the basis of a therapeutic methodology, the elevated wood cabins are intended to support the healing process. Moreover, they can also be used as a place for patients and family members to meet. Set amidst birch and oak trees. the 35-square-meter-large cabins are designed for overnight stays yet are within easy distance of medical care as Oslo University Teaching Hospital is just 100 meters away from the Outdoor Care Retreat.
The wood cabins are integrated into the forest with great care and respect to minimize their impact on the setting – doctors would perhaps refer to this as minimal invasive surgery. And though the resulting compact cabins have an asymmetrical shape their barrier-free design means a hospital bed can be easily pushed through the entrance. In addition, while the units between the trees have individual footprints depending on the available space in each case, they all boast a main room, a smaller room for conversation, and a bathroom.
Over time the wooden facades will weather and blend into their surroundings; interior surfaces are clad with high-quality oak. Looking out into the forest the spacious window areas can – weather permitting – be completely opened to allow an immersive night stay between the trees accompanied by the fragrance of moist earth. According to child psychologist Maren Østvold Lindheim, one of the initiators of the project, the natural, calm environment is designed to provide relaxation for patients after operations and other treatment. Walks in the forest also help dispel stress. And patients returning to their rooms after spending time in such soothing surroundings bring a positive feeling with them that also benefits other patients, care staff and doctors-.
In other words, the treehouses see themselves as a minor but important addition to the range of therapy on offer: They offer personal retreats that allow patients to escape the sterile atmosphere of daily life in the clinic. The first two retreats in Kristiansand and Oslo can be reserved via a booking system, other cabins are in the pipeline. The project looks to be a small start with a huge impact: In Norway at least the “infirmary”is gradually becoming a place of healing.