European Healthcare Design Congress 2019
I must admit to having a vested interest in the success of last week’s European Healthcare Design Congress. As always it’s a six month sequential transfer of worry. From first concerns about putting together a good programme, then the number of delegates that sign up, then the day dawns and it’s the weather, the mood in the house, the quality of the presentations and minor matters like food and drink.
It went well – enormous thanks to Marc Sansom and his team who put it all together and to my colleagues at Architects for Health and to all those who came. There were 500 delegates from 30 countries – many of whom were with us for the first time. I think that they became aware quite quickly that a real community has developed around the EHDC with a sense that for two days this is their event and their place and their people. And the place matters – the home of institutions like the Royal College of Physicians are designed to accommodate ceremony and congregation. Lasdun’s building one of the very best 20th century buildings in London. Classic modernism - an elegant set of inter locking and generous promenade spaces that flow through the building – spatial interpenetration at its very best. Encounters are made inevitable and the daylight that floods into these spaces and their architectural quality and authority make this venue so very different to the exhibition halls and commercial conference sheds in which so many similar events take place. It helps having Regents Park and the terraces as the backdrop especially at this time of the year.
The quality of the presentations was high – some were really excellent, many were very good with the occasional clunker but in many ways it is what happens in between and after these that is the most important part. And that is the dilemma. I chaired the session at which Sir Andy Haines – Professor of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine gave a keynote speech on Planetary Health – a superb position paper on where we currently stand and what we might be able to do. I then asked the 250+ audience how many had flown in for the Congress and I would estimate around 150 -200 stuck their hands up, which begs the obvious question- are conferences like ours a responsible proposition, - with many of those hands having flown long haul from the Antipodes or North America. Yes we could and maybe we should extend our reach by having a virtual conference by webinar or skype.
But the power of human assembly is very strong – healthcare architecture is a needlessly specialised and sometimes lonely field. Getting 500 people in one building, old and young, polyglot, talking, arguing, eating, drinking and learning from one another makes this a special event in our calendar and quite unusual on the conference circuit. And perhaps the way in which we might justify – or excuse – our carbon footprint is to give this real and virtual community a voice. Ours is an expert forum, committed to well designed healthcare systems and social architecture. We should start thinking about how we can inform debate and exercise authority beyond the confines of this event.