Duke Cancer Institute’s Quiet Room serves as an oasis, addressing users’ physical and emotional needs.
The Quiet Room at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Comprehensive Cancer Center in Durham, NC, is a meditative oasis for individuals, families, and staff facing emotional, life-altering events. Set within (and in contrast to) the rectilinear lines and the hubbub of the cancer-treatment facility, the Quiet Room’s curved walls and textured surfaces, awash in soothing sound, light, and color, provide a calming sensory experience amid the Cancer Center’s institutional atmosphere.
The Cancer Center wanted a self-contained oasis that would serve its users’ differing emotional and physical needs. The designated site was located incongruously across from a wig shop and pharmacy, near elevators, and beneath public restrooms. There was no access to skylights or daylighting. Further, regulations prohibit water features in hospitals, which presented an obstacle to the Quiet Room’s desire for a meditative focal point.
“Time is an essential part of both treatment and healing, so I wanted the room’s experience to transcend and echo the passage of time,” explained Turan Duda, FAIA, founding principal, DudaPaine Architects of Durham. “I wanted a place to lose yourself in.”
Driven by the desire to accommodate a range of human emotions, Duda created three rooms within one. Labyrinthine rings of paths, walls, seating, and canopies lead to and encircle a central sculptural feature. This configuration of spaces presents opportunities for varied, intimate activities from private conversations to guided meditation and yoga. The single room provides contemplative space for one to a dozen people.
Health and safety regulations prohibited a water feature in a hospital environment, but Duda nonetheless sought to provide a fountain-like focal point for the space that would offer the calming influence of water. He commissioned a layered glass installation from glass artist Ken von Roenn (Kaiser/von Roenn Studio Group, Louisville, KY) that would evoke water’s constantly changing nature and mystery. This five-foot diameter “glass fountain” glows at the heart of the room’s rings and its surface ripples like water.
Architectural strategies such as screening and translucence, apertures and lighting, layering and multiplication magnify a sense of spaciousness and inspire the imagination by fully engaging occupants’ senses. Programmable lighting gradually shifts the room’s ambient color and mood. Light seeps through the edges of recessed niches, washes the convex ceiling, and emanates from within the “fountain.” Reflections play off the stone-mosaic floor’s uneven surface and animate the room’s inherent stillness. Subtly changing sounds mask background noise while providing a neutral atmosphere for contemplation. Contrasting textures of wood, glass, and fabric invite touch.
Lighting designer Francesca Bettridge of Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design, New York, usedprogrammable LED technology to infuse light into the room’s architecture and provide a sense of shifting time. Hidden fabric-wrapped acoustical panels, bench upholstery, a curved ceiling, and acoustical treatments within the surrounding structure insulate the room from outside distractions and envelop visitors in sounds tailored to align with the lighting programs. Variations of light and sound, which visitors can easily select from a panel by the entrance, mimic the changing light across days and seasons.
The pattern, surface, structure, and craft of interior elements relate directly to the scale of the human body. Through simple references to nature and subtle manipulations of light and sound, the Quiet Room’s small space provides a gently shifting experience and a soothing, meditative oasis in the heart of the cancer center, a sanctuary amid the active world of care that surrounds it. The layered quality of the Quiet Room addresses the spectrum of emotional and physical needs that come with cancer diagnosis and treatment.
The Quiet Room’s success in part lies in the dialog and interplay between architecture and art. The collaboration and contributions of these two disciplines engage occupants at every level—visually and acoustically—in an envelope that is both calming and uplifting. The room’s experience is complete, whether inhabited alone or with others, yet allows occupants choice in a situation where much is beyond their control. For the patients, families, and staff of Duke Cancer Center, the effect is comforting, reflective, and rejuvenating.