Michael Graves’ Paralysis Informs Design for Omaha Rehabilitation Hospital

Architecture, Midwest
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
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DLR Group, Page, and Michael Graves are working on a rehab facility in West Omaha that is informed by Graves' own experience. (DLR Group)

DLR Group, Page, and Michael Graves are working on a rehab facility in West Omaha that is informed by Graves’ own experience. (DLR Group)

The architect of Omaha’s new rehabilitation hospital says his own paralysis has given him “greater empathy,” which has informed his designs for the healthcare industry. Local firm DLR Group and Texas-based engineering firm Page are working with Michael Graves, who lost the use of his legs in 2003 as the result of an infection, on the $93 million Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in west Omaha.

omaha's Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital is planned for a 2016 opening (DLR Group)

omaha’s Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital is planned for a 2016 opening (DLR Group)

Expected to be complete in 2016, the facility will use technology to afford sedentary patients greater control over the TV, thermostat, nurse call system, and other things in their room.

Omaha’s World-Herald describes how Graves, 79, drew from personal experience while designing the 250,000-square-foot hospital:

Giving patients some control over their environment is important, said Graves and Patrick Burke, a principal in Graves’ firm. Graves recalled one instance early in his rehab when he was being transferred from his bed to a chair using a motorized sling.

“I was getting into the chair that day and I was up in the air, in a sitting position over my chair but not in it yet. The nurse’s aide’s friend came in and said, ‘It’s time for our break.’ So they left me there dangling in the air and they went on a break. That’s as low as it gets.”

The average stay at Madonna is more than 30 days, but residents tend to be more mobile than many hospital patients. That creates a need for active social spaces, Graves said, but also a pitfall: many architects want hospitals to resemble hotels.

“Well, I don’t,” he told the Omaha World-Herald‘s Bob Glissmann. “I don’t think it needs a big atrium and I don’t think the rooms have to look like a hotel room. These are hospital rooms, and you want to have good care. What makes the difference is the empathy.”

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