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Design og arkitektur Norge Design and Architecture Norway

Inclusive Design - a people centred strategy for innovation

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St. Olavs Hospital

St. Olavs Hospital has received international acclaim for its innovative, inclusive architecture that brings nature, the city, employees and patients together in an unconventional way by focusing on the patient’s needs.


As with many other public buildings, hospitals can come across as large and unfamiliar, with sterile décor and a complex layout of spaces and floors, and much attention has traditionally been given to the functionality and system. When developing the new hospital, one of the challenges was to keep sight of the human experience and to develop a hospital that is accessible to everyone.

We are at our most vulnerable when we are ill. Furthermore, we are mentally and physically affected by our surroundings. These are two facts that were taken seriously when planning both the inside of the buildings and the outside environment. The fundamental concept of the design of St. Olavs Hospital was therefore to create a hospital environment that emphasises the human scale. It was a desire to make the hospital area a pleasant and welcoming place, a delight for patients, relatives, employees, students, scientists and the general population.

“As soon as you are inside the building you see continuity, and contact with the outdoors. You know immediately where you are, and can orient yourself using daylight and the natural views.” - Ragnhild Aslaksen, Chief Architect


When Helsebygg Midt-Norge announced an international competition for the design and construction of a new hospital in Trondheim in 1995, comprehensive plans for every aspect of the design were drawn up at an early stage alongside guidance for implementing inclusive design throughout the process. These principles were followed in the collaboration with various architects and designers who worked on the hospital. In addition, user involvement of patients, their families and different user organisations was emphasised from day one.

“Establishing the concept of inclusive design at the initial stages has been crucial.” - Ragnhild Aslaksen, Chief Architect

Patients as equals in the decision-making

Inclusive design at St. Olavs Hospital applies not only to the architecture, which aims to include all users, but also to the decision-making processes. Strict priorities were laid down, which were then followed throughout the process and at all levels. One way of achieving this was to see patient participation as important as employee participation. This is fairly unique. Only talking to employees can result in a perspective that considers work routines and functionality, and largely misses the human perspective. Patients typically place emphasis on emotional needs. The user surveys that were carried out with representatives of large patient groups revealed three main desires: privacy, visible and available personnel, and accessibility. Each ward has therefore been given a centre with eight single rooms located off this. This concept combines architectural and organisational considerations, and gives increased security for both patients and personnel - the patients sleep better and employees have a better overview.

Design from a patient perspective

The project has been innovative in the way universal design has been integrated into the landscape planning throughout the project. The landscape architects have been very thorough in gaining an understanding of the surroundings from the perspective of the patients themselves. In order to do that it was necessary for the designers to put themselves in the place of the patients, and through knowledge and experience gain a deeper understanding of how the physical surroundings best can be designed to enable treatment. They have shown understanding for a range of people and considered everyone. One example is the way that plants were selected in consultation with the Norwegian Asthma and Allergy Association. Another example is a training path for wheelchair users in one of the parks at the hospital. 


The result is a high level of satisfaction for patients, relatives, students and employees and the hospital area has become an attractive gathering place for the citizens as well as the students.  

It is clear that implementation capacity and good collaboration and teamwork across disciplines, builder and other interest groups have been among the most important success criteria for this project.  

“We wanted to design a medical district in which streets and spaces create interplay in the hospital, opening it up to the neighbourhood. In addition, it has to be a green area, since the nature and its vegetation stimulate the body and the senses.” - Landscape architect Lisbet Haug, head of the Landscape Department at Asplan Viak

The new hospital opened in 2010 and has since then received international acclaim and won several awards for its innovative architecture that brings nature, the city, employees and patients together in an unconventional way. It is a great example of how universal design can benefit all.  

St. Olav Hospital from Design og arkitektur Norge on Vimeo.

Big windows allow natural daylight to enter from all directions and provide contact with the outdoors. Photo: Helsebygg Midt-Norge - Erik Børseth

A training path for wheelchair users gives the opportunity to practise for the challenges they will face outside the hospital, whilst in private and safe surroundings. Photo: Røe Kommunikasjon - Stein Risstad Larssen

A challenging difference in height between two of the buildings was solved with a combination of a staircase and a ramp which effectively preserves both form and function. Photo: Trond Heggem.