A hospitable hospital

"I probably shouldn't say this, but the real inspiration behind St. Olav's Hospital is Florence Nightingale. She understood things about how to treat sick people, things that it's important not to forget."

Story Johannes Eggen, Partner in Nordic
The very first requirement in a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm.

A place of healing

We're sitting in one of Nordic's meeting rooms on the 12th floor of the KPMG building in Oslo, and the view is stunning. All of Oslo lies at our feet and if it weren't for the earth's curvature, we could see Sweden. We're talking about the prize winning St. Olav's Hospital and how it re-defines what a hospital should be and how it's built. 

"There's a quote from Florence Nightingale I particularly like: 'The very first requirement in a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm.' It sounds almost like a quip, but its insight is profound. A hospital should always be built around the patient and the patient's needs. A hospital should be a place of healing."

Breaking the mould

Nordic won the contract to design St. Olav's Hospital because they didn't just create a hospital. They created a neighbourhood.

"Our research showed that almost all hospitals seemed to follow a standard recipe: a big, labyrinthine building with a grand central entrance, surrounded by other not-so-grand buildings. An intimidating place, sometimes almost sinister, gleaming like surgical steel. So we started thinking about how we could break this mould and make a hospital that was friendly, intuitive and naive."


"I really like the word naive. I think it's underrated. It has an inherent innocence which I find a very attractive quality in a product or a building. So I think 'naive' is better than, for instance, 'simple', because simple tends to mean cheap."

There was, however, nothing naive about the St. Olav's Hospital project. With 220,000 m² and a construction cost of more than 14bn NOK, it took 15 years from start to finish. The result was a new "medicinal" part of town.

"We wanted to go from megastructures to village, so to speak, turning the area into something you actually want to visit instead of dreading the place. So we knew we had to open it up to the public – to make it recognisable ­– and we decided we would turn it into the world's first hospitable hospital." 

The green urban plan around the hospital provides us with a fantastic frame around the work we do. It's like Valium! Doctor at St. Olav's Hospital

Long term investment

Eggen gets animated when the discussion touches how the patient tends to get pushed into the background when hospitals are planned, yielding to power words like cost-efficiency, budget balance and return on investment. In Eggen's view, St. Olav's Hospital is the perfect example of how great architecture is also a great investment.

"If you, as a contractor or a society, invest in good architecture, you get your money back many times, because the intrinsic quality in everything from the aesthetics and materials to the technical solution will be much higher. Research also clearly demonstrates that we humans react differently to different environments – your neurons simply don't react the same if you touch wood as if you touch plastic. If you buy into that, and you agree with the quote from Nightingale, you have pretty much summed up how we feel about hospitals."   

St. Olav's Hospital stands out as a source of inspiration for future hospital developments all over the world. HILDE BØKESTAD, Director of urban planning in TRONDHEIM municipality

Double life

Another ingenious thing about St. Olav's Hospital, is that it has a double life.

"Yeah, we're really happy with that one. This is probably the only hospital in the world that is built so it can shrink and change. It occurred to us that most hospitals are forever doomed to be hospitals. They rarely become anything else, because they are so huge and specialised. At St. Olav's, the building structure is flexible and adaptable, and can evolve with the tides of time on a whole different level. It's not unlikely that parts of the hospital will be closed or moved elsewhere, freeing up space for other activities. Who knows, maybe St. Olav's Hospital will be St. Olav's Student city in fifty years?"