In a detailed interview with Woodform Architectural, Ronald Hicks, Principal and Head of Health + Research Sector at HDR|Rice Daubney explains how architecture has contributed to improved health outcomes by creating better environments for patients.

A South African who had done some healthcare work in South Africa before arriving in Australia, Ronald Hicks joined Rice Daubney about ten years ago. Helming the Health and Research Sector at Rice Daubney, Hicks has since focussed on health and science and technology, considering the sector as a specialised, complex subset.

Having had considerable exposure to a broad range of project-delivery models from tiny regional clinics in Swaziland to 170,000-square-metre hospitals, Hicks has significant experience in the technical side of hospital operations. He is particularly interested in cancer care buildings, which he believes bring out a different degree of motivation in him.

According to Hicks, Australia stacks up very well in terms of healthcare in general compared to the rest of the world. Following Rice Daubney’s consolidation into a bigger US-based practice called HDR, he has been exposed to healthcare design work around the world and knows that the standard of Australian healthcare facilities is very good.

Among the global projects that Hicks has worked on where boundaries were pushed, the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse in Sydney stands out for being “very interesting and different”. This was a cancer care facility that was trying to fulfil the ambitions of Chris O’Brien, a doctor who personally experienced the condition he had spent his life treating. The people responsible for realising this vision took that responsibility very seriously, making the delivery of the project a very unique and learning experience for Hicks.

The Sunshine Coast University Hospital PPP, on the other hand, was a very commercial and competitive environment that brought a whole set of other challenges. However, Hicks believes a well-rounded architect is one who can extract positive things from tough experiences.

HDR|Rice Daubney was recently involved in a healthcare project in Qatar, the Hamad Medical Corp. (HMC) centre in Al Wakrah Hospital, located close to Doha in a little fishing and pearling settlement. Designing the building had a high degree of difficulty with the centre being planned as a long-term, residential care type of facility for disabled kids.

In conclusion, Ronald Hicks says hospitals today represent a mixed environment with influences from hotels, airports and retail coming into play. With a lot of work done around evidence-based design outcomes in health, there is proven evidence of improved healthcare outcomes with better environments for patients including faster response to medication, reduced length of stay, and discharge in a better condition.