Therapeutic distractions: Assarian Cancer Center heals the spirit

November 01, 2000 |

As spiritual and emotional healing become more important to patients, caregivers, family and community, so have what are often called "therapeutic distractions." These design features of health-care facilities range from aromatherapy and engraved poetry to luxurious décor and veritable healing shrines.

One example is the two-story "reflection space" at the Assarian Cancer Center in Novi, Mich., which marries a New Age spirituality with old-school religion. Designed by Albert Kahn Associates Inc. (AKA), Detroit, the cylindrical glass prism is visible from the main lobby and emerges from the facility's rear elevation. The space looks out onto a pond, and is flanked by a science center on one side and a patient art gallery on the other-comforting both the left and right hemispheres of the cancer survivor's mind and spirit.

Measuring more than 40 feet in diameter and height, the glass and steel silo is a freestanding, rigid structure with a steeply sloped skylight roof system. A faint purple hue in the low-emissivity glazing diffuses sunlight while adding a hint of color. The subtle design called for electrical conduit to be painted to match the truss members and for conditioned air to enter through large but well hidden curved reveals.

While its technical execution is commendable, the design and workmanship are eclipsed by layers of metaphor and meaning. Representing both personal wholeness and the human soul, the circular room contains several stone sculptures, fountains and mobiles by local artists, sitting upon concentric rings of Minnesota dolomite tile with 12 inscriptions from Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Navajo sources.

AKA served as architect, engineer and planner for Providence Hospital and the University of Michigan Health System, which collaborated on the 33,500-sq.-ft. project. In the hospitals' view, the dramatic new reflection space supplements the latest radiation and medical oncology therapies with spiritual and emotional healing for cancer survivors.

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