A therapeutic space
The Aceleradora built at La Paz Hospital in Madrid is the first of a series of industrialised pavilions that will be implemented in various Spanish hospitals with an unprecedented purpose in our healthcare panorama. It is part of a research project of the unoentrecienmil foundation - promoter of the project - whose results have shown that physical exercise can help accelerate the cure of childhood cancer by 17%, increase the chances of survival, mitigate the side effects of treatment and improve their self-esteem and quality of life. In the Aceleradora, children of different ages will be able to exercise as part of a non- pharmacological therapeutic programme, thus positively influencing their recovery. The patients' physical activity is recorded by devices that collect data to obtain scientific evidence that will improve their treatment.
Transdisciplinary collaborative design-thinking
The process of knowledge production culminating in this project has involved numerous agents: researchers, medical personnel, anthropologists, graphic designers, programmers, builders and architects. The final result is indebted to all of them. It began with the elaboration of the sequence of actions and experiences necessary for all those involved in the hospital, from the patients' stay on the ward to the integration of physical exercise in the hospital treatment and the construction of an optimal experience for all. To this end, a team of anthropologists from Innuba conducted a series of interviews with patients, their families, health technicians and researchers. Based on this study, a map was drawn up that would describe all the actions needed to carry out the project along this journey by the agents involved, and work began on the architectural project that would accommodate them.
Leaving the hospital
The Aceleradora is located on the roof of La Paz Hospital, next to the main entrance and connected to the maternity and infant tower. It is an outdoor space but at the same time a new interior that incorporates techniques and imaginaries favourable to recovery. Patients can leave for a moment the rigid temporal and spatial protocols and the monotony of the main building, to enter a place with an alternative spatial and material organisation.
The Aceleradora is a sequence of contiguous spaces. Each is dedicated to a specific activity and has slightly different material and lighting qualities. They all form a single, visually accessible space. From the point of contact between the ward and the hospital tower, to the garden terrace, the sequence of episodes is a carefully coordinated experience tailored to the needs of all who use it, from the patients to their families and the staff who care for them.
The space connecting the Aceleradora with the hospital, on the second floor of the tower, is a wooden ramp that zigzags from the perimeter corridor to the threshold on the tower façade. The irruption of the curved maple wood volumes inside the hospital is an introduction to the materiality that the visitor will find in the rest of the pavilion's interiors and constitutes a clear invitation to enter. At the end of the first section of the ramp, an oculus pierces the façade to offer a first glimpse of the interior of the pavilion on the other side of the white wall.
The ramp leads to a waiting room, the first space outside the tower, which allows patients and their companions to sit on a semicircular bench from which they can see the hospital's entrance plaza and exercise spaces. Its curved geometry resolves the contact between the ramp and the main ward.
Physical exercise takes place in the following two spaces. The first, just off the waiting room, is dedicated to informal exercise and is accessible at any time of the day. Here, the Aceleradora also offers a solution for patients who are unable to travel inside. A large rolling cabinet, containing the necessary exercise equipment, can be unhooked from the wardrobe and moved into the room.
The second room, which is larger and lit by three north-facing skylights, contains the machines for supervised exercise.
Next, the laboratory contains the machinery needed to record the progress of the investigation. A fold-out stretcher allows patients to be examined.
The last space in this sequence is a covered outdoor terrace, facing south, which protects the laboratory from the summer sun and contains a small garden of native species.
All these areas, which form a single enclosure separated by glass partitions, are finished with maple plywood. The use of this material, the use of vegetation and the way natural lighting is managed, contribute to building a calm and welcoming atmosphere, conducive to the recovery of patients.
In recent decades a number of empirical studies have investigated how the use of natural components - as in outdoor nature experiences - contribute to our well-being. From a biophilic and evolutionary point of view, humans have developed an innate sensitivity for coexistence with other living beings, and consequently for natural materials such as wood. Almost everyone agrees that wood is beautiful, and is attracted to it. Wood is a living material, which changes over time and with which we develop immediate bonds. Another important element for well-being is the vegetation, introduced into the outdoor module and visible from the exercise areas.
The future need to implement these research spaces in different hospitals led to an understanding of the project as a combinatory system. Based on a catalogue of dimensional units, interior and exterior finishes, a series of light control devices and other "plug-in" devices, each project will be approached as the selection and combination of a series of pre- designed units. Each Aceleradora will therefore form part of a common family of solutions, adapted in each case to the needs of the location.
In accordance with this approach, industrialised and prefabricated construction systems were adopted. With a metal structure, sandwich panel and plywood panels on the inside, the different modules were built in a warehouse over a period of two months. They were then transported by modules and assembled on site.
The pavilion solves the storage needs by means of an equipped wall on the west side. In addition, this façade is thicker to contain all the necessary installations. The air-conditioning systems emerge into the interior through perforations in the wooden panels.
Maximum autonomy has been pursued for the pavilion, which contains the entire body of facilities inside, and is only connected to the existing water network, electricity and medical gases of the hospital.
If the interior of the Aceleradora is designed to reinforce as far as possible the therapeutic nature of the research programme, on the outside it aims to communicate globally with those who walk through the area. The shape of the project makes its combinatory character explicit, and conveys a certain idea of lightness and ease. On the other hand, its geometry deliberately contrasts with its immediate surroundings and denotes this desire to distinguish itself from the hospital and office fabric that surrounds it. Finally, the pavilion includes two of the "plug-ins" from the general catalogue: a weather vane and coloured bands on the façade. These super-graphics, which add a two-dimensional and communicative character to the architecture, are integrated into its formative principles, subtract gravity and bring a domestic and accessible dimension to the project.