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The Creativity of Caring: Tonya Hinde of Billard Leece Partnership

You might assume that creativity takes a back seat to science and hard facts in the design of health and aged-care spaces, but according to Tonya Hinde, it’s the most creative sector she’s worked in. Here’s why.

  • Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre. Photo by Shannon McGrath.

  • Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre. Photo by Shannon McGrath.

  • Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre. Photo by Shannon McGrath.

  • Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre. Photo by Shannon McGrath.

  • Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre. Photo by Shannon McGrath.

  • Royal Children's Hospital. Photo by John Gollings.

  • Royal Children's Hospital. Photo by John Gollings.

The healthcare landscape is ever changing in Australia, and the well-versed writings of Bernard Tschumi – “There is no architecture without events, without actions, without activities” – are just as relevant today as they were when taught at design school, according to Tonya Hinde, associate director and Victorian interior design leader at Billard Leece Partnership (BLP).

“Health includes your emotions and health is all around us. It isn’t just about what the medicine does, it’s also about the space we inhabit,” she says, referring to Esther Sternberg’s publication Healing Spaces (2009).

This is a key focus for Hinde. Over her 26-year career, Hinde’s work has often reflected a personal sense of storytelling and scale regardless of size, sector or typology, which: “goes beyond the flippant in design and gets to the heart of things that make you feel ok.” Her focus in Australian healthcare design was put on the map in 2011 through her work on the landmark Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne, by BLP and Bates Smart.

A significant, world-leading facility with many stakeholders, RCH represented a ground-breaking opportunity to bring together research, administration, labs, theatres and wards, connected by the story of ‘the hospital in the park’, based on an evidence-based design principle that outside views shorten recovery times.

“It was pretty unique in the world to have a park the whole way around the hospital, and it was one of the first in Australia to address this entirely,” Hinde says.

The ‘nature: nurture’ storytelling informs the hospital’s design at every step, but it is subtle, rather than literal: from the meerkat enclosure backing onto the zoo, to the wards named after transitions from underwater to earth and sky, and the 7.5 metre-deep aquarium rising up two floors.

At the time, RCH kickstarted more funding and design opportunities in healthcare than ever before, and it’s in these newer health projects that Hinde feels the most fulfilled, offering more creativity to explore than in any other sector she works in. “By starting these projects, everyone’s research expands expectations and creativity expands too,” she says. “It pushes the sector, and goes beyond the ordinary.”

She did exactly that at the Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre (by BLP), drawing on her own diagnosis and successful treatment for breast cancer 12 years before. “My own experience of receiving radiotherapy treatment was pretty horrible,” she recalls. “I remember lying there and [seeing] all these masks of other people’s treatment, like you’re in a back storage room.”

Rather than focus on solely a public façade and lobby space, she delved deeper into the centre’s treatment areas to try to create a more positive experience for patients. She created quite beautiful radiotherapy bunkers reminiscent of a day spa, where patients lay down in a dimmed room, and look up to a perforated wildflower pattern in the timber, softly lit from behind.

A similar patient experience informed the design for the Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre (by BLP), which won a 2017 Australian Institute of Architects NSW award for Public Architecture.

In this highly sensitive and collaborative facility, the interior shapes the exterior envelope.

The building plan stretches along the façade with 30 chairs set up for day treatment patients, which each face a different view of the mountain landscape opposite.

“These picture windows pop out and it’s unconventional looking,” Hinde says. But as much as her work reflects a very personal experience, she also finds creativity in stepping back, releasing the control required to manage many stakeholders and budget constraints, and then embracing the chaos.

“Healthcare design teaches you that you are just one person, and in fact, it’s not about you,” she says. “The more designers that can get out of their own headspace and into others’, the better life will be. We can use our skills to help others a lot more.”

To help her creative process, she uses film-thinking as a design tool. On large projects, she considers space, scenarios and interactions from everybody’s point of view, and then applies site, context and characters to the scene. “I like seeing people interact with the space where it’s full of activity, or even activities you didn’t expect. It’s like interpreting your work in a different way, and that’s something that takes a while for designers to get into.”

For example, Hinde is currently drawing on agile and activity-based workspaces, creating access for all. In hospital design, she brings clinics together so that they don’t belong to a specific department. Playspaces are integrated and connections are created to the outside environment, while the traditional large waiting room is broken up into smaller waiting rooms.

“They are hospitals but they’re actually exciting buildings in our architectural landscape and that’s something to be proud of as Australians,” Hinde says.

This article originally appeared in Indesign #71 the design pharmacy issue.

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