As Dina Radjabalipour fought a losing battle with cancer last year, the Washington State University architecture graduate student wanted to design a better treatment center.

Dina Radjabalipour
Dina Radjabalipour

Instead of stark rooms, glaring fluorescent lights and vinyl floors that made her feel weak and depressed, she imagined a facility that would give hope to cancer patients.

She died before she finished the project, but Paul Hirzel, a professor in the WSU School of Design and Construction, dedicated last semester’s graduate studio course to designing a better treatment center in her honor. Students presented their designs to the public at Pullman Regional Hospital and in a display on campus.

Windowless rooms and mazes

Approximately 580,000 people in the U.S. died from cancer in 2014, and more than 1.6 million people are diagnosed every year, according to the National Health Care Institute.

As part of the project, the students did a case study of a prototypical cancer care facility. The infusion rooms, where cancer patients may sit for hours when receiving chemotherapy, are often windowless and drab. The hallways can be a confusing maze, creating extra challenges for exhausted patients.

Furniture is nondescript. Flooring and furniture are often made of vinyl, which potentially can harm patients, said Hirzel: “Ironically, we are using materials in our hospitals that can cause health problems.”

Natural distractions, satisfying furnishings

The students addressed the problems with a range of solutions. Providing views of vegetation, they found, can make a difference in a patient’s recovery by simply providing a positive distraction.

WSU student design concept for a better cancer treatment center

“The garden and the view from the patient room is critical,” said Hirzel, who is a cancer survivor. “What you are able to look at in a waiting room or in a patient room can have significant impact on your recovery time.”

Designs for infusion furniture aim to lift spirits, as does an idea combining an aquarium with a treatment center.

“It is our hope that this effort will provoke greater imagination in the design of new care facilities, and that Dina’s first steps toward a better world for cancer treatment will continue to be carried forward,” said Hirzel.