Among a certain subset of designers, there is a growing sense that the more natural a space is, the better. So-called biophilic design, or design that incorporates nature and natural processes, is making its way into the world of architecture and urban planning. In architecture, biophilia is seen as a way to make people happier and healthier by integrating nature into their daily lives, even when they are in the city.
It’s a concept that’s especially relevant in healthcare spaces like hospitals and clinics. It has been demonstrated time and time again that patient well-being and healing are closely linked to how spaces are designed, the amount of natural light they are exposed tosame the views hospital rooms provide to patients.
Increasingly, healthcare facilities are designed from the start with biophilic concepts.
“We know that when people have better access to green spaces, natural areas, areas for rest and respite, places that can be away from cars, traffic and noise, especially in urban centers, mental and physical health improves,” says Anjulie Palta. , urban planner at the architecture firm Cooper Robertson which focuses on healthcare campus design. “There is a huge opportunity for a hospital and its land holdings to capitalize on fulfilling its mission, and really its imperative, to meet public health outcomes.”
An example is the new St. Elizabeth Health Care Cancer Center in Edgewood, Ky., just across the border from Cincinnati. When the hospital set out to design the facility, with the help of an architectural firm GHA, his clinicians were ready with their own ideas. “I read for months before even going to the first development design meetings,” says Dr. Douglas Flora, executive medical director of the center’s oncology services.
As a cancer patient himself, he understood that design could play a huge role in how patients experienced the often uncomfortable treatments. He started asking patients what they wanted in a new facility. “What I’ve heard over and over is, ‘We don’t want sterile fluorescent lights. We don’t want to feel like we’re on a stage while we’re sitting on those high exam tables and getting cold in the gowns,” he says. Patients wanted a softer experience, with more natural light, not the sterile white walls typical of a cold hospital room.
“When we met the architects, we went for a full palette of natural materials for everything, lots of varying textures and colors, all tied to nature, which we felt was more soft and inviting,” says Flora. He wanted the project to “echo more of the feeling you get when you walk into an Apple Store than the feeling you get when you walk into your gynecologist’s office.”
The design has fully incorporated this softer approach, from the natural materials like wood used in patient and staff areas to the large walls of windows that line nearly all exam rooms, chemotherapy infusion spaces and workstations. of nurses. The architects even used specific natural color tones to help differentiate departments and aid wayfinding – colors that at first seemed a bit too much. “They’re brighter and more cheerful than I would normally expect for a building,” says Flora, who describes herself as having “more of a Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn type vibe.” The color palette includes lots of bright pastels and canary yellows. “Patients notice that these are uplifting spaces,” says Flora.
The power of natural light has been fully exploited in the lobby, which is covered by a skylight that extends to the ceiling and sends diffused light below. “There’s a healing feeling when you walk in,” says Flora. The space is also connected to the cancer center’s free patient facilities, including a demonstration kitchen, a staff and patient yoga studio, an art therapy studio, a music therapy studio, massage and acupuncture and an aromatherapy area. Outside the center is a healing garden, which patients use for fresh air. These are all ways to reconnect patients to the natural flows of their bodies and provide what Flora calls “whole person care”.
“When we built this, we recognized that most of our patients weren’t primarily interested in their CT scans or their chemotherapy regimens,” he says. “We’ve really found that it improves their lives and addresses the other things that doctors might not address on every visit.”
Biophilic elements are seen as ways to expand what it means to provide health care. In New York, another project took the concept of biophilia and geared it around community health. St. Barnabas’ Hospital, a Bronx institution dating back to the mid-1800s, began developing spaces that incorporate health-focused design ideas. In his news Health and wellness center, a two-building affordable housing complex with co-located health services inside, the hospital has integrated a connection to nature through food. The roof of one of the buildings houses an urban farm operated by the New York nonprofit EATS projectwhich operates urban farms in neighborhoods where access to fresh produce is limited.
The rooftop farm is directly linked to the health services that the hospital provides to residents and others on site. Part of the connection is made by involving the residents in the farming process and eating the food produced. In partnership with Project EATS, doctors at the hospital can prescribe healthy foods grown on site and prepared in a 4,000 square foot commercial kitchen on the second floor of the building.
According to Spencer Orkus, Managing Director of L+M development partnerswho worked with St. Barnabas on the projectthe buildings were developed “not just to provide space for healthcare and housing, but to try to meet the social and environmental needs of people, especially patients in the community”.
Linda Goode Bryant, founder of Project EATS, says access to healthy food is a major public health challenge in poor neighborhoods, and even more important is bringing food closer to residents facing their own health problems. “The systems we have now take food too far away from us,” says Bryant. Having a farm over the heads of St. Barnabas patients, she says, is an extension of the work of doctors at the hospital. “We’ve come to realize that there are so many benefits to a partnership like this,” she says. “By intertwining our programming, we can have more impact in the community.”
Building the space was not without complications and costs. Orkus says the rooftop truss required specific structural planning to support the weight of the planters, sealant to ensure it was watertight and, most expensive of all, a dedicated lift. “As you can imagine, hauling soil and plants up and down, asking the farmhouse to take the residential elevator wouldn’t suit either party,” he says.
But the investment is worth it, if only to advance the project in the hospital’s mission in an often underserved neighborhood. “We are a double bottom line business,” says Orkus. “We can do well by doing good.
At St. Elizabeth Cancer Center, Flora says investments in biophilic design — from light and natural materials to a healing garden to yoga studios and aromatherapy — are already paying off. “After the center opened, our volume skyrocketed,” he says.
Although he chooses not to portray it as a way to compete with other hospitals or health centers, Flora says these design elements are definitely ways to show patients that cancer care can be more than this. happening in the exam room. “The building evokes that,” he says. “It’s really like a breathing organism.”