Architecture for bidding farewell to life

A hospice for cancer patients in China


China is a major cancer country. Just taking Shanghai as an example, 38,000 people per year (106 people per day) die from cancer. However, there are no more than 76 hospice beds for them to have a comfortable space to say goodbye to this world with grace and dignity. (Chinese National Cancer Center, 2017 )

Unlike other diseases, cancer often has the characteristics of rapid deterioration, high mortality, and expensive treatment costs. Most importantly, patients with advanced cancer often suffer from great pain but have basically lost the possibility of a cure. However, unfortunately, most patients with advanced cancer often receive inefficient invasive treatment before they die, and pass away with regret and pain. The author’s father died of cancer in October of last year. His condition deteriorated very quickly, and it was less than seven days from initial diagnosis to his death. Because there was no specialised nursing ward for advanced cancer patients in their living city of Harbin, they had to go back and forth between their home and the hospital every day. The author’s father was exhausted by the daily journey, and the road conditions and constant running around undoubtedly influenced the deterioration of his condition and even possibly caused the rupture of his liver tumours.

What can architects do for the growing number of cancer patients in China? What kind of space do they really need?

Based on earlier research and this personal motivation, thus, the desire to design a hospice became the focal point for this masters research. The site for this hospice would be in the hometown of the author’s family, Harbin, a northern city in China in which her father passed his final days. The “Daowai”, a small district in Harbin, is close to Songhua River, with beautiful scenery and bustling with life. The nearby pet market is where the author and her father often wandered during his final weekends, which left the family with many memories. Therefore, the site for the hospice could be on Dog Island, on the Songhua River. As mentioned earlier, there is a great need for more hospices within the area; this hospice care centre would add more medical resources to the Daowai District and balance the distribution of medical resources more evenly throughout the city. From a personal emotional point of view, looking south from the site, visitors and patients can see the full view of the pet market. The author’s plan would be for the south side of the hospice to be designed as the patients’ wards with a view onto the place holding many memories for the author.

Through research of relevant literature and interviews with medical providers and architect who is specialized in designing hospice care centres, this project attempts to understand the real needs of cancer patients and their families who are facing the end-of-life. The design of this hospice care centre, based on the results of the research, is mainly considered to provide patients with more comfortable and dignified spaces within the Chinese cultural context, in order to help them face pain and death with less fear.

At the end of this thesis, the author would create a fictional story about the last seven days of an imaginary patient’s life in this hospice, which has been based on the experience of the author’s father, in order to simulate what space and atmosphere this project can offer to terminal cancer patients and their families.