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When Comfort Matters Most: Palliative Care ‘In Conversation’

Creating an environment in which to care for people with life-limiting illnesses brings fundamental aspects of comfort into focus. For Cubes 86, Narelle Yabuka spoke with the CEO and the architect of palliative care centre Assisi Hospice about its high-density new building.

When Comfort Matters Most: Palliative Care ‘In Conversation’

Choo Shiu Ling, CEO of Assisi Hospice, with Kevin Sim, Principal Architect at New Space Architects, in a garden atop one of the building’s three wings. Photo by Tawan Conchonnet

Narelle Yabuka (NY) Let’s begin by discussing the best terminology to use in reference to palliative care and palliative care environments. Which are the most important and appropriate terms, and how would you define them?

Choo Shiu Ling (CSL, Assisi Hospice) We refer to our space as needing to be life affirming, and being able to provide for the comfort and dignity of our patients. Our service delivery also needs to respond to the dignity of the individual patient and provide comfort for patients and family members.

NY What does ‘life-affirming’ mean in the context of a palliative care space?

CSL The final journey is a time for living – for building even closer ties with family members and loved ones – not for being hampered by medical symptoms. Our patients are brought to a space where they can be physically comfortable with medical symptoms well managed, and where our pastoral care staff and social workers help support spiritual and psychosocial needs.

NY Kevin, what would you say are the most important spatial and environmental aspects in a palliative care environment?

Kevin Sim (KS, New Space Architects) Access to landscape and natural light, and making it feel as non-hospital-like as possible. I could go into a hundred details, but those are the key things.

NY How is ‘comfort’ perceived in the context of palliative care?

CSL We look at our patients in terms of their medical needs, their psychosocial needs, and their spiritual needs. So it’s the comfort and dignity of their entire being on many levels. Looking at their physical needs, having a single room with privacy certainly provides a sense of dignity and comfort for day-to-day living. Then we look at the spiritual and psychosocial needs, considering comfort for our counsellors, social workers and pastoral care staff so they can develop close relationships with family members as well as patients – and that provides a certain level of psychological comfort as well. In the entire environment, from the furniture to the way the spaces are constructed, comfort is a key factor both visually and physically.

NY Kevin, tell me more about how you catered to the needs of all the stakeholders here with your design for Assisi Hospice.

KS I need to give credit to the Assisi team for their brief. They did a lot of research throughout the world and presented us with a handbook when we started the design. We’d also done our own research. It was a courtyard scheme from the outset; we were thinking that everybody should have a view of landscape. We also wanted to break down the scale of the building. It’s a very tight site – that was our biggest challenge. But we managed to put in family rooms and canteens on every floor. The dining areas are communal spaces for everybody in the wards. Shiu Ling tells me they’re packed on weekends – people even do their homework there. That means it’s working well; it’s not like a hospital, but it’s a communal space where perhaps the perception of death is not as forbidding.

To read the entire interview, grab a copy of Cubes issue 86 (Jun/Jul), themed ‘Are You Comfortable?’



In our print feature, we unintentionally omitted some project credits. We wish to clarify that the interior design of Assisi Hospice was by Context Architects Pte Ltd. Keppie Design from the UK provided healthcare-planning consultancy in the early stages of the project. We apologise for omitting these details.



Alvin Ng, Principal of Context Architects, has shared that the overall design intent for the interior was to create a warm and comfortable home-like environment – one that differs from the clinical and institutional ambience of many healthcare facilities. A home-like demarcation of spaces and zones was designed, with relaxed clusters (such as dining areas within each ward) granting families and caregiving groups semi-private spaces in larger settings.

Particular spaces and surfaces were distinguished through material application and the reshaping of ceilings. For example, nooks within the shared areas of the wards were clad with timber to create cocoon-like portals with a feeling of greater privacy. In the rooms, bedheads were designed to impart a domestic feel, with sliding graphic panels concealing medical gas outlets, and wall-mounted light fittings lending a home-like ambience. The design of the ceiling within each room was enlivened through the use of cove lighting and a leaf graphic.

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