Oslo – Ask anyone who’s spent any time in the hospital as a patient or a visitor: there’s only so long you can stare at the same four walls or pace the halls back and forth in worry. Prolonged stays can come to feel as debilitating as the diagnoses themselves. It’s why secluded wooden shelters now dot the stretch of forested land surrounding two of Norway’s largest hospitals: the Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet, and its sister, Sørlandet Hospital Kristiansand.
Designed by Snøhetta on behalf of the Friluftssykehuset Foundation (Foundation for the Open-Air Hospital), the outdoor care retreats provide all patients – regardless of disease group or age – a physical and psychological respite from taxing treatment regiments and isolation.
The 35-sq-m spaces are built with rejuvenation in mind, offering lush natural views and room enough to spend time with friends and family. Snøhetta used an uplifting frame of reference when designing the cabins – they’re meant to recall the playful wooden varieties oft built by children.
Empathetic design most often arises where a serious issue is generally recognised, if not also experienced first-hand. This was how Friluftssykehuset Foundation’s founder, Håvard Hernes, came up with the idea for open air retreats. Hernes’ daughter had become seriously ill in 2009, and the family continually felt the need for a stress-free zone, a place to have break from it all. But they knew they were hardly the only ones to feel this way, and this became the driving force behind the foundation’s beginnings in 2015 and the subsequent collaboration with Snøhetta.
Today, where there was once just damp forest floor, there are – in Friluftssykehuset Foundation’s terminology – ‘dignity zones,’ places to actually aid treatment and disease management. While the cabins are integrated with the hospital campus, they are removed enough to be thought of as private locations.
Consisting of a main room, smaller room for conversation and treatment and a bathroom, the interiors are fully clad in oak. And the exteriors are equally harmonious with the Norwegian forest: the structural wood will turn grey over time, seamlessly blending with the trees overhead.
Friluftssykehuset Foundation’s end goal is to make open-air healthcare a standard for all hospitals in Norway, and to inspire other countries to implement the same. Interior biophilic design has an uncontested positive impact on health and wellness – where more sensible to see it used without fail than in hospitals?