Above: The Kings College Hospital in Dubai, designed by Perkins+Will and scheduled to be operational in January 2019
Natural materials invoke comfort
Scottish painter, writer and landscape artist, Maggie Keswick, was a strong advocate of the importance of attending to the psychophysical wellbeing of patients. She shared views that are now accepted to be critical to healthcare design, that the aesthetic quality of a healthcare facility can help patients endure their illnesses.
The mind and body are aware of their physical presence in an artificial environment. Which means the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ isn’t active, and we don’t see the need to heal and adapt quickly.
The presence of natural materials reinforces humans’ connection to nature, and improves the mind’s perception of the healing environment as welcoming and natural, thereby speeding the recovery process. Studies have shown that natural materials enhance visual comfort owing to how they absorb more light than they reflect. They also positively affect our olfactory senses, creativity, immune system and overall health.
“In my years with dwp, I worked on the Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, the design of which leaned heavily into the biophilic school of thought,” says Kristina Zanic, Designer and Owner of Kristina Zanic Consultants. “At the time, this was considered quite revolutionary, and after this project, many hospitals in the city began to change their outlook to healthcare design, putting the focus back onto the healing process.”
The Bumrungrad features a Zen Garden in the central atrium, which doubles as a sanctuary for people to relax and immerse in the natural elements of stone, rock, wood and water. It is the focal point of the hospital building and can be seen from all twenty floors, as well as via cantilevered platforms that act as small lounges with optimum views. “In the outpatient facility and check-up area, the flow, in particular, was also important to ensure patients were directed smoothly from one point to another in a clockwise, circular direction,” says Kristina. “Images of green foliage, plants and flowers were introduced, together with natural wood and special surfaces, that met the health standards and criteria, to create a soothing and warm environment, and aid the healing process.”
The Danish Center for Proton Therapy, a WAN Future Projects Healthcare Award 2016 design winner, by Denmark based Link Arkitektur
Plants improve productivity and quality of care
It is not uncommon to see flowers around patient beds in a hospital, and for good reason too. Plants and flowers are a treat to the senses, and can greatly enhance the patient’s experience during recovery. Those benefits extend to doctors and staff as well. When the overall environment is one that promotes wellness and productivity of its inhabitants, it leads to better healthcare for patients. Rooms with plants (roses, in particular), natural ventilation, proper lighting, and natural elements that one can touch and feel, increase the medical staff’s productivity and organisational capability. According to a study, these biophilic design choices also boost the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby decreasing stress levels and encouraging a general sense of wellbeing. Not to mention they also help diffuse any ambient sound that can affect concentration or quality of sleep.
Maximising the use of natural light via skylights – Design for the Danish Center for Proton Therapy by Link Arkitektur
Spatial configurations affect patient and visitor experience
The layout of a healthcare facility, and the nature of the spaces within, can affect how patients and visitors view and experience them.
Research indicates that one of the ways this can be achieved is through the use of perspective in interior spaces, while at the same time conveying a sense of protection. Another tactic would be to simplify and organise. Despite the fact these facilities are inherently complex, there’s no reason for patients to be subjected to that level of information. Patients and medical staff alike should be able to perceive the spaces as clear and consistent. Examples here are effective orientation, wayfinding systems, or visual cues to provide direction.
Natural patterns induce subconscious responses
We recognise and process natural patterns far more easily than artificial ones. Scientists and researchers have theorised that we respond positively to these because most of them, particularly fractal structures, can be found within our bodies. These similarities create a sort of cognitive link, leading to an increased sense of comfort. According to a study by Nikos A. Salingaros, we react poorly to designs that deviate far from natural patterns – smooth, shiny objects or excessive use of minimal and straight lines in the built environment create alarm. The discomfort that arises from this occurs because these patterns contradict the natural patterns we are used to experiencing in nature.