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Five Rules on Compassionate Design

There are ten million new cases of dementia each year. Hospitals are an intimidating environment for patients and carers. Sensitive, well-designed architecture can help. In one of our handbooks we explore the subject. As a short introduction, here are five rules for designing appropriate spaces.


Text: Björn Rosen 
Hier klicken für die deutsche Version.


1. Design for everyone

Those with dementia lose their short-term memory faster than their long-term memory, which makes many people think spaces for dementia patients should remind them of earlier times. This is a problematic idea, not least because people get ill with dementia at different ages. What time period should be the point of reference for a diverse group of people? Architecture for dementia patients is successful precisely when it cannot immediately be recognised as such. Discreetness can also help reduce stigma. The spaces should work for as many kinds of people as possible. They should be aesthetically appealing and enable orientation and safety. This benefits everyone – visitors and patients alike.


2. Create visual anchors

Hospitals are large, complex buildings, and almost everything looks basically the same inside them. Even cognitively healthy people can find it hard to find their way, but they can at least create a mental map, while people with dementia cannot. It’s too much for them to visualise turning three corners in order to reach their destination. And so, it’s helpful if there is a particular design element in each of the places where patients need to decide which direction they will go. This way, they can trace their path from one point to the next. Helpful reference points might include a window that looks onto a tree-lined courtyard or a wider section in a hallway where there’s an alcove in which to sit.


3. Enable flexibility

Of course, standardisation is important in a hospital, but there should also be room for individual adjustments. It can make a huge difference for example if a patient can position their bed differently, pushing it up against the wall, because this reminds them of home and makes them feel safe and well. They might all of a sudden sleep much better! It’s also good to leave space for things that patients bring from home, such as a photo that can be hung on the wall where it can be seen. And regarding space: it’s very important to create a pleasant space for the family members and visitors, who play a very important role for patients with dementia. They should not feel like they are always in the way.


4. Think about light

As mentioned above, hospitals are complex structures, and it is difficult to illuminate all rooms and all sections of the corridors with natural light. But the more this is possible, the better. Daylight helps people keep a sense of time and improves their sleep, which is why balconies are also a desirable architectural element. When it comes to light more generally, including artificial light, one should bear in mind that eyes change later in life and lose the ability to absorb as much light. This is why it’s important to ensure that the lighting is sufficiently strong for those with dementia. Moreover, light can help them more intuitively find their way, for example, when they’re going to the bathroom.


5. Help the staff keep track

People with dementia have a tendency to wander. They feel uneasy because they do not know where they are and go searchingly walking around. This presents a huge challenge for the hospital staff. What can be done to help them? You might deliberately hide the exits of course, but that would become a safety hazard in some situations. And sensors would be an intrusion on the patients’ privacy and autonomy. Tying them to the bed is obviously not an option. A solution that often works well is to design the station such that the staff can easily keep an eye on the patients, even while doing other tasks (like paperwork). There should be a pleasant space for the patients at a central location near the staff room. 

Under the Spell of the Blue Light

Photographer Bernhard Ludewig has been documenting German nuclear technology across the world for seven years. Here, he introduces four of his most captivating images.


Text & Photos: Bernhard Ludewig
Hier klicken für die deutsche Version.


HYPNOTIC. The TRIGA reactor in Mainz produces a ‘pulse’ for research purposes. In other words, the reactor triggers an uncontrolled chain reaction that takes place for a short time interval before naturally coming to an end. The reactor lies in a pool of water, which slows down the neutrons emitted during the reaction and acts as a cooling agent. The image shows pneumatic tubes descending into the reactor core, where they irradiate the samples. I was able to place my camera just over the surface of the water. The charged particles travelling through the water created a light effect: a hypnotic blue glow that left me spellbound.


SURREAL Germany’s last building project for a nuclear power plant is currently taking place in Angra, Brazil, between São Paulo and Rio. Construction began in the 1980s, but financial problems have led to several delays. Here, the first German facility went online in 2010. A second one has long been underway. The surroundings, along the Atlantic coast, are truly breathtaking. The completed reactor is painted white, while the neighbouring buildings, surrounded by palm trees, don pastel colours and look like an ensemble of Art Deco structures. In the early evenings, the tropical sunset is reflected on the dome.


GLEAMING Here we are at the Emsland nuclear ­power plant, not far from the Dutch border. The image offers a rare glimpse of what lies inside the containment building. When the reactor is in operation, it is covered by a thick concrete lid. But once a year, the reactor must be opened so that the spent fuel pins can be replaced with fresh ones. A crane lifts the heavy concrete lid, lying twelve metres deep, to reveal the gleaming stainless steel elements inside. The containment building is then flooded with water, which acts as a shield against the hazardous radiation from the fuel pins (see following image).


OPEN. The Gösgen nuclear power plant in Swizerland is also a German model. Here, we see the annual operation for replacing the fuel pins underway. The reactor lies open inside the containment building, which has been flooded with water. On the top left, a gripper extends downwards to collect the fuel pins from a depth of 16 metres. The spent fuel pins are subsequently placed in a neighbouring water tank, where they are cooled for five years before being transferred to a dry Castor container. This is what makes up the infamous ‘nuclear waste’, for which the German government is still seeking a final storage place.

From "Altbau" to "Gebrauchsarchitektur"

Some words, no matter how trivial they may seem in the original language, do not lend themselves to direct translation. Kyung Hun Oh, our in-house translator, talks about some challenges of his daily work.


Text: Kyung Hun Oh
Photo: "Altbauten" in Berlin's Schöneberg area © DOM publishers


Altbau: The word Altbau, literally ‘old building’, is a perfectly common word in German, denoting a Gründerzeit-era building from the late 19th or early 20th century. The word carries several connotations, and the translation must reflect the sense being emphasised. A text might be highlighting the fact that an ‘Altbau’ is more fashionable to live in than a contemporary building; it might be exploring how building practices and aesthetics changed after the Second World War; or it might be describing how an old building is being expanded as part of a renovation project. Possible translations thus include ‘period building’, ‘pre-war building’, and ‘existing building’.

Sortenrein: In some building projects, the architect might choose to combine materials in a way that is sortenrein – literally ‘pure in kind’. This means the materials are kept in separate layers without the use of glue so they can be reused. The word has no direct equivalent in English and would warrant an explanation in a subordinate clause.

Vorzeigearchitektur vs. Gebrauchsarchitektur: These two terms came up in an essay I recently translated. Literally, the former means something like ‘showpiece architecture’; the latter something like ‘use architecture’. The former implies 'prestigious', 'iconic', 'recognisable', and 'unique'; the latter implies 'ordinary', 'functional', 'plain'. I chose to translate the two terms as ‘landmark architecture’ and ‘ordinary architecture’.

Tags: English

Meet our team: Kyung Hun Oh, translator

After studying literature in Cambridge, UK, Kyung Hun Oh  moved to Berlin four and a half years ago. He has now translated numerous books for DOM publishers. An advocate of clarity, he gently reminds architectural critics: sometimes, less is more.


Text: Björn Rosen
Photo: © DOM publishers


Good translators ask good questions. The ones Kyung Hun Oh asks his colleagues are sometimes met with bewilderment and often spark long discussions. Is there, for example, a difference between the words ‘Konstruktionsart’ (literally: type, style, manner, or method of construction) and ‘Bauweise’ (building ­method)? And how scathing does a critic mean to be with the phrase ‘geistige Kurzatmigkeit’ (literally: ­intellectual shortness of breath)? Such questions are difficult to answer, even for the German native speakers at the Berlin-based publishing house. And they reveal some of the challenges involved in Oh’s work – and the high standards and degree of precision he aims for.

Oh joined DOM publishers two years ago, where his main task is to translate manuscripts from German into English. They are always about architecture and urbanism, though some texts are very technical, ­others very theoretical. He has translated ten books for the publishers so far, including the last three editions of the German Architecture Annual for the German Architecture Museum and most recently Radikal Normal, a collection of essays by the architect and architectural theorist Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani. When he speaks, you hear his unmistakable British accent. As the son of Korean parents, he grew up just outside London, though he has also lived in the US and Spain. He first came into contact with the German language when he lived in Frankfurt am Main for a few years as a teenager: there, he attended an international school and learned German as a second language. Later, while studying English literature at the University of Cambridge, he also had the opportunity to read German poetry and plays.

Berlin has been his home for four and a half years. ‘To me, English feels quite linear, with a clearer sense of direction. German is more circular. A sentence leaves more room for detours and asides before the verb is finally revealed,’ he says. His discerning eye has also registered several over-used terms in German architectural jargon. The word ‘vermitteln’, in the sense of ‘mediate’ or ‘connect’, is just one example. ‘Once, an architecture practice euphemistically described a high fence around a gated community as a “mediating element” between the public streetscape and the private spaces inside,’ he says. ‘I get the feeling that some authors try a bit too hard to write beautifully – often at the cost of clarity. Sometimes, what you have is four walls and a roof, and it’s perfectly fine to just say that.’ When asked about examples of good architectural writing in English, he cites the works of Oliver Wainwright, Jane Jacobs, and Richard Sennett.

Oh is co-editor of the English edition of the DOM magazine. And he has also translated this (in his eyes very complimentary) profile, which you have now read to the end, from German.


Diesen Text auf Deutsch lesen.

Vann Molyvann: The architect who shaped the Cambodian capital

He melded modernist principles with Angkorian tradition to invent a new style: Khmer Modernism


Text: Kyung Hun Oh
Photo: Chaktomuk Conference Hall, Vann Molyvann (1961), © Henning/Koditek


In 1956, Vann Molyvann returned to Cambodia from his studies in Paris to find his home country electrified by a new feeling of creative dynamism. There was a palpable sense that the nation, newly independent from France, was seeking to reconnect with its ancient tradition, ‘to reassert its own personality’, as he told Moritz Henning and Walter Koditek, co-authors of Architectural Guide Phnom Penh, recently published by DOM publishers. Soon appointed as the nation’s chief architect, he went on to forge the new architectural identity of Cambodia in the early postcolonial era.

He had studied the modernist masters in France, above all Le Corbusier, and the tenets of modernism would become a central hallmark of his work. He made radical and innovative use of reinforced concrete and valued honesty in materials: ‘they taught us not to use architectural lies; if we used stone, they should see stone; if we used cement, they should see cement.’ Function, too, occupied a central place in his architectural thinking: ‘a building has to work and find a use, according to the habits and customs of the culture.’ However, Vann’s modernism was also, distinctively and unmistakably, Cambodian. He took inspiration from the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, drew on elements of traditional Khmer architecture, and incorporated vernacular building methods that had been developed over centuries.

His most iconic works in Phnom Penh include the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, the Teacher Training College, and the National Sports Complex. Each of his buildings is an object lesson in climate-adapted design. He frequently raised his buildings to enhance natural ventilation and used perforated panels, full-height windows, and filtered light to temper the scorching heat of the Cambodian sun. Water, too, was a recurring design element, perhaps most remarkably in the National Sports Complex: there, he directed rainwater into a basin beneath the indoor stadium to produce a cooling effect through evaporation and convection.

Vann’s prolific career in the Cambodian capital came to an abrupt end after just 14 years, cut short by the military coup of 1970 and subsequent rise of the Khmer Rouge, which forced him to seek refuge in Switzerland. Sadly, many of his works from the 1960s have been demolished or altered beyond recognition. Preservation projects of recent years are attempting to safeguard his legacy. Only time will tell whether his heritage will survive.


This text is taken from DOM magazine, no. 2, from May 2020. Our magazine is published four times a year – twice in German and twice in English. Receive a free copy with every order in our webshop.

"On the downside, the Chinese come with their own styles"

Africa is at the centre of our publishing programme this year: Its cities are the fastest growing in the world, which brings many challenges. Remy Sietchiping, from the UN, is an expert on the urbanisation of the continent. An interview on Chinese infrastructure, the perils of glass façades, and cities as engines of democratisation.


Interview: Björn Rosen
Photo: Informal constructions house the majority of Angola's population, © K. Luchansky


According to the World Bank, urbanisation is the single most important transformation that the African continent will undergo this century. Cities in Africa are the fastest growing in the world, and Lagos, Nigeria, is projected to become the largest city on earth by 2100, with 88 million inhabitants. Is this development stoppable?

No. People have always migrated throughout history. It’s part of human nature, and no policy or intervention can stop this behaviour in a democratic context. This is in fact a good thing. Developing countries usually have a higher percentage of their population living in rural areas. It seems that nations cannot really start being seen as emerging economies until they reach 50 per cent urbanisation.

Africa is currently still the least urbanised continent. But it also lacks an industrial sector, unlike recently emerging economies such as India, China, and Brazil.

I don’t expect Africa to take the same path towards urbani­sation. Of course, industrialisation is a lever of change, but it is not the only one. Cape Verde, for example, has a high human development index and a relatively high GDP, yet it has zero industry. Rwanda is also emerging, but not based on industries. I should also emphasise that the African continent is very diverse, and it is crucial to consider the nuances. Some countries are highly urbanised, others are not. Going back to Cape Verde: this is a small island country, where the majority of people live in urban areas. Meanwhile, in Namibia, people are highly concentrated in certain areas, while large parts of the country are almost empty.  

Africa’s population is rapidly growing. How much of its urbanisation is simply due to the higher birth rates?

That’s certainly one factor. The situation is far different from Europe, where birth rates are low and some cities are even shrinking. But another – often overlooked – reason is that life expectancy has been increasing in Africa over the last 30 or 40 years. Moreover, many villages or peri-urban areas are being agglomerated into ­urban ­areas. And, of course, people are moving from small ­rural towns and villages to bigger settlements.

This also leads to the growth of slums. On the upside, an article in Foreign Affairs recently argued that urbanisation is an ‘engine of democracy’ and that denser social networks make it easier to organise protest.

To some extent. Recent revolutions and protests all happened in cities, from the Arab Spring in Tunisia to the protests in Sudan. However, this is more a phenomenon of dense neighbourhoods where people feel that their fundamental rights have been violated. Those who live in posh neighbourhoods don’t necessarily feel the urge to take to the streets.

What can architects do to better manage African urbanisation?

Cross-sectoral collaboration is still largely under­explored in Africa. Architects often design a space without considering its impact on the city, region, and nation. This is a shame, because working with sociologists, anthropologists, and health practitioners can significantly boost creativity and innovation. Diverse viewpoints from different disciplines are crucial for understanding how society works. I also think African architects could be more careful about adopting ­other building cultures. It often makes no sense to build with a lot of glass. The material forces you to rely on air-­conditioning, which is costly and certainly avoidable if you adapt your building methods to local conditions. It is unfortunate that the use of local materials is widely seen as a somehow inferior approach.

Another major trend in Africa is the growing engagement of Chinese developers, who are building infrastructure all over the continent. Is this a positive trend?

Chinese investment has led to both improvements and concerns. Developers from China complete projects on time and rarely revise the budget. Working with Chinese developers is appealing for many African countries because the financing is easy. The interest rates are attractive, and you can pay with natural resources instead of cash. Chinese investment has enabled much of the business infrastructure built in Africa in recent years. So there are many positive aspects.  On the downside, the Chinese not only come with their own architectural styles, they tend to bring everything else required for the construction: tiles, doors, finishings – even parts that could be produced locally. Moreover, the architectural plans and maintenance manuals are all in Chinese. I have noticed during trips to China that the materials there are sometimes of a much higher quality than what I see in Africa. Finally, the contracts are prepared by the Chinese developers, and the countries often just sign them.

What about the rural regions that are being abandoned due to urbanisation? Do they need more attention?

Urgently. But so do the smaller cities, especially because they are more manageable. Early intervention enables you to attract investment and create the kind of city you want. If towns become more attractive, people won’t always want to flock to the major cities. This leads to a more balanced kind of development, with services and functions evenly spread out throughout the country instead of concentrated in one area. Rwanda is a positive example. The Rwandans make sure that the ­smaller towns have a clinic, a school, or another particular ­urban element that shapes the identity of the place.


REMY SIETCHIPING is a Nairobi-based representative of UN Habitat, the United Nations programme for human settlements and sustainable urban development. Born in Cameroon, he holds a PhD in Geography from the University of Melbourne. He has contributed two articles to Architectural Guide Sub-Saharan Africa.

The wait is almost over! After many years of research and preparation, our Architectural Guide Sub-Saharan Africa will be on the shelves in December. It will offer a unique insight into a wealth of buildings that is frequently overlooked in the west.

How to: Seven Rules on Designing for Children

Niches and natural materials? Yes. But please avoid barriers!, says the author of our new book Childcare Facilities


Text: Natascha Meuser
Photo: Zalando-/ Fröbel-Kooperationskindergarten, Berlin/Germany, © HEJM 


1. Listen to carers and pedagogues

Architects are no pedagogues, and not all of them are parents. It is essential to speak to carers, who know more than anyone else about the daily needs of children at a kindergarten. 

2. Create quiet, private spaces

Sometimes children also want to be alone. They love caves and niches.  Even when they band together, they mostly form small groups. Therefore, make sure larger rooms can be divided into smaller spaces. Often, simply hanging a piece of fabric is enough.

3. Don’t overprotect the children

Children can only learn through experience. Excessively coddling them deprives them of an opportunity for growth and development. A nursery doesn’t need protective rails everywhere, nor should every surface be covered in extra-soft materials. After all, children don’t have such protective measures at home either.

4. Make use of the entrance area

The entrance area is often only used twice per day: as soon as the children arrive and hang up their coats, the space remains unused until they are picked up at the end of the day. You can use the space more efficiently, for example by turning it into a play area.

5. Work with natural materials

It is never too early for children to learn about sustainability and good taste. What better way to do this than to design nurseries with natural, environmentally friendly materials? There are already many wonderful examples, built from timber, in rural regions of Europe and in Japan.

6. Offer different vantage points

Who didn’t love scaling boulders or climbing trees in the garden as a child? Young children love spaces that offer different heights, such as bunk beds, benches, and platforms.

7. Use colours and childish images in moderation

It is only a myth that children want their environment to be full of garish colours. Images of Micky Mouse and fairy tale figures covering the walls and windows often reveal more about the adults than what the children want. Less is more.


NATASCHA MEUSER offers architectural guidance to the largest kindergarten operators in Germany. Her Construction and Design Manual: Childcare Facilities will be published in the coming months. It is the first manual specially dedicated to the long-neglected kindergarten building typology and presents 60 contemporary childcare buildings from across the world in detail.

This text is taken from DOM magazine, no. 2, from May 2020. Our magazine is published four times a year – twice in German and twice in English. Receive a free copy with every order in our webshop.

A Short Stopover in Tunis

Faouzia Ben Khoud, author of our Architectural Guide Tunis, has been exploring the Tunisian capital for many years. Below are her tips on finding the best food, concerts, and views of the historic cityscape.


Text: Faouzia Ben Khoud
Photo: Disegni Building, © Philipp Meuser


Tunis is a patchwork of many different civilisations. The old Muslim quarter, the Medina, forms the heart of the city and is very well preserved compared to other historic centres in the Maghreb. The French district of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is situated immediately to the north, and the ruins of Carthage and Ancient Rome are located just a short distance away. I moved to a suburb of Tunis when I was 14, having grown up in a different part of Tunisia. But it was during my architectural studies, when I also did an internship in the Medina, that I truly came to know the city. To this day, Tunis is where I feel most at home.

Taste. The Medina of Tunis has several main arteries, which are always thronging with people. The Muslim quarter is filled with shops and places where you can meet your friends. I would suggest simply getting lost in the crowd and wandering freely. Even I get lost sometimes to this day. Turn into any of the side streets, where people live, and it quickly becomes very calm. The homes are always arranged around an inner courtyard, which is hidden from the outside, since in Medina, what is private must remain private. But visitors who wish to look inside one of the wonderful old buildings with their tiled walls can make their way to the El-Ali Restaurant (Rue Jamaa Ez Zitouna). From the terrace, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the historic centre with all the minarets of the mosques. Their couscous is rather ­delightful, especially with fish.

See. A day trip to the village of Sidi Bou Said, near the coast of Carthage, is very rewarding. It is fascinating to walk by so many archaeological excavations. The village itself stands on a hill, and people often compare it to the Greek island of Santorini: the buildings are all white, the doors blue, and one of the alleys leads to a view of the Mediterranean Sea. My architecture faculty was near the village, and I would go there whenever I felt down, which would immediately make me feel better.

Listen. My favourite building in the city is the Municipal Theatre (Théâtre Municipal de Tunis, 2 Rue de Grèce). I discovered it through a friend, who took me along one day to an afternoon concert. We listened to some pieces by Liszt, which was wonderful, especially in the magnificent auditorium. I admire the building’s Art Nouveau design, though I particularly appreciate the subtlety and restraint with which the architect rendered some of the decorative elements – the handrails with plant and floral motifs and the ceiling paintings, depicting birds, for example. The building has such a cosy atmosphere. It is a venue not only for theatre productions but also concerts by the Tunisian Symphony and performances showcasing Arab-Andalusian music.


FAOUZIA BEN KHOUD is the author of our recently published Architectural Guide Tunis, available in English and FrenchShe studied architecture in the Tunisian capital before completing her master’s degree in monument conservation at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Dessau in 2017. She came to know the historic centre especially well during her internship with the Association de Sauvegarde de la Médina de Tunis.

This text is taken from DOM magazine, no. 2, from May 2020. Our magazine is published four times a year – twice in German and twice in English – and each edition includes the Stopover feature, where one of our authors or staff presents a place close to their heart. Get a free copy with every order in our webshop.

Willkommen / Welcome

Herzlich willkommen auf dem Blog von DOM publishers. Hier erfahren Sie künftig mehr über den Verlag: über die Themen, die uns wichtig sind, über unsere Mitarbeiter und Autoren – und darüber, wie unsere Bücher entstehen.

Welcome to the DOM publishers blog. You’ll find information on our publishing house here in the near future. We’ll reveal more about topics that are close to our hearts, our staff and authors – and how our books are created.

Tags: Deutsch, English