The future of care is intimate (and two more propositions worth reflecting on)
What do we actually consider important to our quality of life? And how can we achieve that? The questions raised by the Embassy of Health this year have become even more relevant due to Covid-19. A conversation with three insiders about how designers approach these kinds of issues.
Jetske van Oosten, of the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, is this year’s curator of the Embassy of Health. For this DDW she curated an (online) exhibition with 15 projects at the intersection of care and design. From a hospital exploring the changing role of care in the neighborhood together with a housing cooperative, to concepts for a human hibernation. “We show the different roles in which designers can help. From thinking along on future scenarios to changing a certain working method and thus driving innovation.”
Chronic Health – Happily ever after? is this year’s title of the Embassy. “Life has been turned upside-down. The corona crisis puts a strain on existing systems and calls for new approaches. More than ever, we’ve asked ourselves, what do we really consider important when it comes to our health?”
The Embassy cooperates with various partners, from Waag to the Máxima Medical Center. “Throughout the year, we develop a narrative with each other. Where do we stand, what are the current issues in healthcare and what role can design play?”
The exhibition is divided into three propositions. The first is: the future of healthcare is intimate. “It touches on the role of the designer. How can you design from the user’s point of view? A good example is ENCOUNTER by Joost van Wijmen. He designs meetings in elder care. In such an encounter he does not position the elderly person as someone who is vulnerable and in need of help, but as someone who has experience with physical limitations and discomforts. In this way he creates a conversation in which problems become visible.”
The second proposition is about care that is inclusive. We talk about this with social designer Sjaak Langenberg. He was invited by care organization Reinaerde to help with the redevelopment of a building on one of the institution’s sites, a place for people with mental and physical disabilities. The wish was to connect the building and the grounds more with the surroundings. How do you tackle such an issue? Langenberg decided to pitch his tent in the area, to start with. Together with designer Rosé de Beer he camped on the site in Woudenberg for a while.
Langenberg: “I know that these kinds of redevelopment processes can be difficult. People often tend to keep talking in terms of real estate instead of making connections. But really, if you want to connect, you can start by doing so tomorrow. That’s also what we did, by going camping there. With a simple but unexpected intervention, we developed a connection with clients, their relatives and care workers. On the first day we already saw curious residents peeking behind their curtains. Later, we started talking and were invited over for coffee. In this way, we informally gathered a lot of information that led to a plan for a sustainable connection.”
“The essence of what we did there is still in what ultimately became Re-creation. A porterhouse on the site is now a guest studio where artists and designers stay for three months to make new connections between the residents and their surroundings. Robin Weidner is one of the designers. He developed an inclusive wood workshop with tools for people with and without disabilities to make products. Sawing and drilling is now possible even for clients with severe disabilities. Craftsmanship brings people from inside and outside the institution together. Where care is sometimes under pressure, the guest designers give new energy to all those involved. That’s a great side-effect of the project.”
At the Embassy of Health, besides these kinds of tangible projects, there is also room for prospects. An example is the project ‘The Caretaker’. This is one of the short videos in which students of ArtEZ at the invitation of Philips Experience Design speculate about the future of healthcare. “In this scenario we see a future in which people are kept in medical hibernation for three months a year to relieve the earth”, says experimental designer Frank Kolkman who is involved in the project. “In the meantime, a few ‘caretakers’ will ensure everyone’s safety by taking action in the event of possible malfunctions. The video calls for reflection on the relationships between technology, health, sustainability, and the interpretation of work.” The project is part of the third and final proposition of the Embassy: the future of care is cohesive. A healthy society goes hand in hand with a healthy planet, where systems are ‘in sync’ with each other. Are we cable of creating a sustainable ecosystem together?