Interview with Prof. Hans Nickl
Nickl & Partner Architects

Building for health care

In your architectural firm you have specialized in health services buildings, and you are a guest professor in Berlin in the area of ‘Designing hospitals and health care facilities’. What fascinates you about this topic? How did you come to this specialization?

From my understanding, architecture occupies a central place in human life. It has an impact on whether we feel safe and secure or anxious. This plays a big role especially in hospital architecture. Weakened by illness and the fears associated with it, a person needs a space, in which he feels uplifted and secure in the best sense. In our architecture, we try to meet this need and see individuals – patients, staff and visitors – as the decisive measure during the planning process.

My career has consistently led me from religious buildings and social living projects and on to health care facilities. I have worked with my wife Christine Nickl-Weller, professor of ‘Design of hospitals and health care facilities’ at the Technical University Berlin, on theoretical and practical issues related to hospital architecture for more than 30 years. While my academic work focuses on the latest research such as Healing Architecture, our shared office serves as a practical experimentation laboratory. An example of the successful application in practice is the new construction for the university clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf. Our vision for the new clinic was to find a contemporary response to the issue of the presence of the clinic in the city in addition to issues of functionality and architectural expression and on top of that, to what extent function, material and construction affect the aesthetics of a building beyond their technical applications.

What parting advice do you give your students, what should they keep in mind when they design hospitals?

The fundamental design elements that go into the quality of hospital architecture are the relationship to the existing building and to the city, the unity of technology and construction, and the layout and organization of rooms. In that process, people must always be viewed as the central point of departure. In spite of all the functional demands, you have to allow yourself some planning freedom, develop visions and convey the idea that ‘this will be our clinic!’

A highlight of your work is the children’s clinic in Heidelberg, a colourful eye-catcher in the Heidelberger clinic landscape. Brightly coloured stripes boldly accentuate the transparent façade. What was your inspiration for this concept?

The inspiration for the design of the children’s clinic has playful origins. Starting from that famous, brightly coloured ‘magic cube’ by the Hungarian construction engineer and architect Ernő Rubik from the 70s, we created a simple shape, playful but also capable of giving a clear order to highly complex operations and a wide range of features in the building. The primary colours we used serve as a subtle orientation guide in the building for the patients, their visitors and the clinic staff. In the sunlight, horizontally arranged coloured glass on the façade casts bright, ever-changing images onto the walls of the rooms. In this way, the actual function of the building fades into the background for the little patients and their immediate family, and hopefully also the illness to be treated.

Thank you very much, Prof. Nickl, for taking time to answer our questions!