Green Design Transforms Care At Rwandan Hospital

A little over two years after its grand opening, Butaro Hospital in Rwanda’s remote northern Burera District serves a population of more than 400,000 people. In its first year of operations, the 150-bed facility provided care for roughly 21,000 patients. Its positive impacts on the physical and psychological well-being of a region so recently ravaged by war and genocide, however, may be impossible to calculate.

Formerly one of the last rural areas in Rwanda without a district hospital, the Burera District now represents a great leap forward in the country’s health care services, thanks in small part to green building methods. By using natural materials, a local labor force and the most up-to-date methods of infectious disease control, Butaro Hospital stands as a model facility for other countries in the developing world.

The Butaro Hospital campus in Rwanda. Image via Partners In Health.

The Butaro Hospital campus in Rwanda. Image via Partners In Health.

This project was led by architecture grad students Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, founders of the MASS Design Group. Together with Boston-based nonprofit organization Partners in Health (PIH), Harvard Medical School, the Rwandan government and various other nonprofit groups, the designers created a modern hospital that provides maternity, internal medicine, surgery and pediatric services. It also includes an emergency department, an intensive care unit, a neonatal intensive care unit, outpatient ophthalmology and gynecology services, and an ear-nose-and-throat clinic.

Since its launch in January 2011, the area has seen a dramatic drop in infant mortality, according to a profile by Rachael Chong on Fast Company’s Co.Exist site, which has been posting Catchafire‘s Generosity Series about some of the world’s great philanthropic causes. “The design is configured in such a way to prevent disease transmission and to improve the coordination of care delivery,” said Murphy and Ricks in the Co.Exist piece. “The strategies of patient-centered design are based on evidence that great environments improve patient outcomes.”

Individual wards are separated to discourage infection and color-coded to aid location. Image via MASS Design Group.

Individual wards are separated to discourage infection and color-coded to aid location. Image via MASS Design Group.

A far cry from the typical crowded high-rise hospitals seen in most cities, the Butaro facility more closely resembles a modern monastery or small college campus. Situated on hilltop, on the site of a decommissioned military outpost, the grounds include terraced gardens, open courtyards, covered verandas and walking paths that lead to wards and labs with intricately constructed natural stone walls.

One of Butaro's wards, which provide patients with ample daylight and direct views of nature. Image by Iwan Baan via MASS Design Group.

One of Butaro’s wards, which provide patients with ample daylight and direct views of nature. Image by Iwan Baan via MASS Design Group.

Something as simple as letting in daylight and providing a view, Murphy and Ricks said, can improve patient recovery rates by up to 25 percent. In Butaro, the layout of the wards ensures that each bed has a direct view of the surrounding Rwandan hillsides.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.