Making “invisible architecture” visible: a comparative study of nursing unit typologies in the United States and China

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Cai, Hui
Zimring, Craig
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China is engaged in the largest healthcare construction program in history, expecting to build more than 2,000 hospitals and a large number of healthcare facilities at all scale over the next few years. This once-in-a-lifetime construction boom provides a valuable opportunity to rethink Chinese hospital design, and especially to consider how to design modern hospitals that are effective and efficient in delivering care, and are responsive to the cultural needs of the Chinese people as well. This dissertation seeks to rigorously define these issues and develop metrics that link design to key healthcare processes. This study uses a range of concepts and analysis tools drawn from cross-culture organizational communications, evidence-based design, space syntax and other research traditions. This thesis develops and refines metrics for four main drivers of nursing unit design: space economy, staff efficiency, natural light and cultural preferences for communication. Communication among Chinese healthcare workers is strongly influenced by cultural preferences for patterns of authority and decision-making reflected in organizational culture and rooted in Confucian principles of hierarchical social structure (Dengji), social network (Guanxi) and face (Mianzi). While the dissertation builds on a longstanding tradition of research focusing on healthcare space economy and staff efficiency, new measures for cultural preferences are proposed and tested. Based on emerging theories of cross-cultural organizational communication by Hofstede and other scholars, and space syntax, this study particularly explores how cultural preferences for face-to-face communication are reflected in the design of Chinese nursing units. Based on the proposed metrics, the dissertation analyzes six pairs of Chinese and US nursing units, matched on layout type. While the Chinese nursing units appear Western, deeper quantitative analysis of their layouts reveals significant national differences in the application of unit typologies in China when compared to those in the U.S. It shows that Chinese hospital design is rooted in cultural preferences such as for positive energy (qi) based on Fengshui theory, and in Confucian principles of hierarchy, social networking and face.
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