Quentin Seik, Associate at Gray Puksand has experience working in Australia, the UK, and more broadly internationally, with a particular focus on creating healthcare centres that make a difference. With the pandemic putting the spotlight on the importance of access to quality health facilities, Quentin is excited about creating a design response to mental health, the rise of technology in delivering medical services, and the role of data in informing our approach.

You have an extensive 15-year background working across multiple sectors in multiple countries – can you briefly describe your career trajectory to date?

My career path so far can best be described as varied! Over the last 15 or so years, I’ve worked across a wide range of typologies and scales, from heritage-listed private homes in the UK to master planning communities in Saharan North Africa to designing state-of-the-art Healthcare facilities in Australia.

Having spent the last decade in Melbourne, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with a number of complex, challenging projects that have challenged the status quo in the health, aged care, and residential sectors. One of the key lessons I’ve learned is that regardless of the scheme’s size or location, designing with a people-centred approach always yields the most rewarding outcomes.

What projections do you have for the health and science developments in light of COVID-19? Has this outlook dramatically changed from previous years?

Without being too pessimistic about the impact of COVID-19 on the world, it’s hard not to anticipate a wave of mental and behavioural health issues on the horizon, including issues like depression, substance abuse, PTSD, and suicide. This will exacerbate the already heavy load on existing mental health services, and it’s clear that this will continue to be a focus for governments and healthcare providers for some time to come.

On another front, we have obviously seen a huge growth in demand for telehealth services and, by and large, the market has been quick to respond. However, the questions for providers are now around how to provide hybrid models of care combining person-on-person care with online clinical care. This will have a significant impact on the shape of health infrastructure moving forward. I’m also hopeful that some of the lessons learnt can help to bridge the gap and bring a wide range of healthcare options to remote and indigenous communities.

How does your work in the health and science space connect with the plans from local state government?

It’s an exciting time to be involved with the health sector as we face a new decade that will be defined by our response to the upheaval of the pandemic and climate change. One thing that is clear is that as a society refocusing on our collective and individual health – physical, mental, and spiritual – has never been more important. Our state’s growing population and the impact of COVID-19 both directly and on demographic shifts to suburban and rural areas have seen a renewed focus on investment in health infrastructure not just in Melbourne but throughout Victoria.

Having been raised in the UK countryside and seen the disproportionate influence that health and wellness amenities, or lack thereof, has on people living in regional communities, it’s disheartening to see. Gray Puksand’s work in regional communities, notably in the Education sector, has given us unique insight into what makes communities work and how to use the built environment as a catalyst for positive growth.

Designing to prevent adverse behaviour sees design as a solution and problem solver. Can you be specific on problems that your designs are solving in this space?

One of the challenges in designing for residential mental health is how to integrate male and female clients safely. We are currently working on a number of existing Mental Health and Aged Care sites providing solutions that improve the sexual safety of patients and help protect staff from occupational violence. This can be as simple as providing access controls or more complex such as re-configuring internal and external spaces to minimise flashpoints.

Can you describe key features and elements that features in design of health and science projects that aim to prevent adverse behaviour, or similar? (e.g. colours, materials, features)

Hospitals and Healthcare environments are by their very nature stressful spaces to be in. As designers, we are using every trick at our disposal to make them calm, quiet, and welcoming places. Biophilic design principles have a huge part to play in the shaping of future healthcare environments, especially given the evident disconnection many have to the natural environment within modern, urbanised areas.

As a general approach, prioritising natural light, access to views and use of natural shapes, forms, patterns and materials all can foster a sense of connection and serenity. Adoption of these, along with more site-specific principles that focus on place-based relationships and evolved human relationships with nature, can have a significant impact on healing. Evidence shows that incorporating this thinking into the design has many tangible impacts – for instance, reducing patient stay times or reducing the need for pain medication.

How does technology come into the design of health science spaces? What are your views on the increasing digitisation of design for new-age facilities?

Technology obviously forms a big role in the provision of care, whether through monitoring, life support or sharing of knowledge and information. Increasingly technology and data have a role to play in helping individuals understand their lifestyles and their impact on their health. This data can also help healthcare providers understand their patients and deliver an experience tailored to their specific needs.

As designers, it is our role to use the data to shape environments that actively support and contribute to wellness and the forming of healthy habits. Whether that is encouraging people to move more, take the stairs more often, or by creating spaces that allow for peaceful contemplation, reducing anxiety and stress. Technology and data allow us insights into patients’ behavioural choices, which leads us to develop more empathetic and compassionate design responses.

Do you have key ideas or views in this space that you would like us to explore in project or thought leadership content?

One by-product of living with COVID-19 is that as a society, we have been forced to consider amending our behaviour not just for our own health or that of our families but also to help protect our communities. This is a powerful paradigm that can hopefully be harnessed.

Over the last few years, I have really been drawn to projects that combine a complex mix of functions with a strong community offering. As an example, TLC Mordialloc is a hybrid facility that offers residential aged care, childcare, medical clinics and health and wellness facilities all under one roof. Though complex spatially, the design is human-centred, using the opportunity for users to combine visiting relatives with other activities as a driver for not just the architecture but also wider societal change. Designing buildings that make it easy for people to make positive lifestyle choices is something I’m passionate about pursuing with Gray Puksand.