The Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital is the leading cancer hospital in the Netherlands. Patients come here from all over the country for examinations, radiation and chemotherapy. In cases where a patient needs to be present at the hospital for several days but does not need to be admitted, he or she can stay overnight at Het Gasthuis with a partner or family member. This guest house is run by dozens of enthusiastic volunteers and paid for by sponsorship money and donations.
When we were commissioned in 2017 to design a new interior for Het Gasthuis and carry out major renovations, the “healing environment” was our natural starting point. In our discussions with the Board and volunteers, we considered how everything in the design should revolve around creating a supportive environment for seriously ill patients. The Healing Environment is a relatively young concept. What does it mean in concrete terms? In creating a healing environment, we consider two questions: what helps people and makes them feel comfortable (perhaps unconsciously), and what is objectively healthy for them? For example, single rooms in hospitals are healthier for people in all respects, and a pleasant environment that reduces stress and tension can help people experience less pain.
From the outset, it was clear that Het Gasthuis should in no way feel like an institution. Warmth, safety and security were the key words. The guest house should give people a sense of home and offer an environment where patients can mentally recover from the trials of cancer treatment.
Upon entering, you arrive in an open space, where you’re welcomed by a host or hostess sitting at a desk and going about the workday. Downstairs there are three living rooms separated by glass walls so you can see who’s sharing the space with you without disturbing each other unnecessarily. In addition, there is a large, homey kitchen, where the temporary residents and their partners often eat together, exchange experiences and offer each other comfort in a difficult time. At any time, visitors can retreat to the comfort of their own hotel room, of which there are 15 in total.
Het Gasthuis is run entirely by committed volunteers, who not only change the beds and wash the linens but also provide support and a listening ear for guests. Some of these volunteers have been working here for more than thirty years; thus, it was only logical that, given all their experience, they had a major say in the choice of elements such as the furniture.