Most of us know intuitively that our surroundings can affect our sense of well-being. If we’re feeling stressed or anxious, for instance, a walk in the park or near a lake or even just sitting in a garden can make us instantly feel better. Science confirms that exposure to green space lowers our heart rates, reduces muscle tension, and decreases the production of stress hormones. So it comes as no surprise that research also indicates that hospital architecture incorporating nature into its design accelerates recovery time and improves patient outcomes as well.
Our Health on Nature
Our instinctual propensity to seek out nature is a phenomenon referred to in design circles as biophilia—literally “the love of living things.” It turns out that tuning in to that innate urge is good for us in the long term. Evidence-based Design Research has demonstrated that connecting with nature can help improve chronic conditions like hypertension, cardiac illness and may even reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes.
We also benefit measurably by simply looking at and hearing sounds that emulate nature. Studies from the International WELL Building Institute and Harvard demonstrate that the biophilic phenomenon is so powerful that when employees simply look at pictures of nature, they are 7 – 12% more productive in the workplace. These studies indicate that patients who have access to scenic views that overlook natural settings require fewer doses of medications while recovering in hospital and go home sooner. Other studies suggest that on a smaller scale, art that depicts images of nature can create positive feelings for patients as well.
That’s where design comes into the picture. Evidence-based design provides the theoretical framework for designers to incorporate scientific research into the built environment. By focussing on patient well-being as well as functional efficiency, evidence-based design mitigates the negative effects of stress related to illness and surgery. Clinics and hospitals designed simply for efficiency, and that lack natural light and pleasing spaces, can cause patients to feel more stressed, anxious or helpless. Evidence-based design elements, on the other hand, connect patients, family and healthcare workers to nature through elements like exposure to natural light, ventilation, views outside to naturalized landscapes and even the use of colour.
Importantly, when hospital design recognizes our desire to be close to nature, not only are patient recovery times reduced and less pain medications are required but good design also contributes to better staff retention and work satisfaction for hospital and clinic employees.
Kingston, Ontario’s Providence Care Hospital
The Parkin-designed Providence Care Hospital in Kingston, Ontario, offers an ideal example of patient-centred design. Providence Care was meticulously designed to combine long-term mental health care, physical rehabilitation and complex care programs in one building. The project incorporates triple-height spaces in the main lobby and exterior courtyards adjacent to every patient unit enhance natural light penetration into the building and connection to the hospital’s naturalized landscaping for patients, staff and visitors. The hospital was built to give residents as much access to the outdoors as possible. Its architecture prioritizes patients’ views by locating patient rooms to give inpatients optimal views of the site’s natural beauty along the Lake Ontario shore.
Nature remains our ally in health and healing. Through thoughtful design, architects tap into the healing power that nature provides, conceiving designs that incorporate scenic views, maximize natural light and create interiors that emulate the natural world. When patients cannot be in nature, modern architecture can bring the healing power of nature to patients.