Healing is all about time and space, the ability to seek treatment, be open to therapies,medications and procedures. As architects, we can create the environments in which healing takes place, whether it be a hospital, ambulatory care center, or a place of respite that someone can seek out like a public garden or urban park. Because, as evidence increasingly shows, healing is entirely dependent on one's state of mind.
Reducing stress and providing inspirational environments creates a context conducive to healing. Some facts related to evidence-based design and biophilic research from the work of Roger Ulrich that are good to keep in mind for your next project:
- Natural light is critical. Exposure to daylight, especially direct sunlight, increases levels of seratonin, which has been shown to dramatically reduce depression, pain levels, and improve outcomes. Avoid creating spaces that are cast in perpetual shadow by the building configuration.
- Views of nature have been found to reduce stress and neuropathic pain. The view can come from a window, interior landscaped space or artwork, although the most effective views were those that provided grand vistas. Abstract art was actually shown to increase stress.
- Effective use of the site is important to provide outdoor areas for patients, families and staff to use. If possible try to provide access to the outdoors at multiple levels, including roof gardens or sunken gardens at basements.
- Good acoustic control to mask unpleasant noise (carts rattling, staff talking amongst themselves) and introduce calming sounds like water or birdcalls.
Healing is a process. Many patients must return again and again to complete a course of treatment. Aside from not feeling well, just knowing that you have an illness causes stress as one deals with fears regarding the outcome, side effects of medication or testing/procedures to be undergone. The buildings they approach should be welcoming and regenerative environments, not ones that will reinforce feelings of dread. Positive environments encourage a positive experience, which also helps patients to lead healthier lifestyles in general. After all, no path to wellness can succeed if a patient does not embrace and follow it.