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A Sustainable Approach: Selecting Materials for Healthy Environments

In our last blog post, we explored the healing effects of organic design in healthcare facilities. Organic architecture not only provides relaxing spaces for staff and patients, but the design philosophy also ensures that a hospital fits harmoniously with the environment in which it is built. In this post, we’ll look more closely at some of the materials used as part of the organic design ethos.

“An important element of organic design is sustainability,” says Taraah Den Boer, Interior Designer, Associate, at Parkin Architects. In addition to the feel of a building, Den Boer recognizes the importance of incorporating sustainable materials to create healthy environments for patients and staff.

Den Boer was part of the interior design team for Winnipeg’s Women’s and Newborn Hospital (Winnipeg HSC), an excellent example of how sustainable materials can be used to promote a healthy environment within a facility. “The right choice of interior materials enhances the user experience, increases infection control, and improves acoustics,” she explains.

With the aim of reducing the environmental impact of the Hospital, the interior design team paid special attention to the selection of: rubber and linoleum flooring; wood panelling; and acoustic ceiling tiles.

Rubber and Linoleum Flooring

Rubber and linoleum flooring materials are not only easy to clean, with no added waxing or maintenance required, but they are also have robust sealed seams, and long lifespans that reduce maintenance costs.

Use of these materials for client and clinical areas―where children frequently interact with the flooring―was driven by the fact that they do not off-gas. This healthy option makes the floors environmentally friendly and safer for children playing. In addition, they are inherently slip-resistant surfaces that decrease glare, thereby reducing  the risk of falls and improving patient safety.

Acoustic Wood Panelling

Due to the strict infection control requirements of a healthcare facility, easy-to-clean, hard surfaces are necessary to mitigate potential disease spread. Unfortunately, many of these materials create loud, alienating echoes, and amplify sound―inconducive to a healing environment.

To address this problem, the public corridors of the Hospital are clad with TopAkustik wood panelling, a sustainable material with increased acoustic properties. The material is FSC-certified, made from sustainably sourced wood, and sealed to withstand healthcare cleaning standards.

The use of sustainable wood not only reduces the environmental impact of the healthcare facility but also creates a calming and peaceful environment for patients and staff. Integration of acoustic attenuation properties reduces noise levels, thus improving the patient experience and aiding in the healing process.

Armstrong Healthzone Ceiling Tiles

Noise levels are also addressed in the Hospital using noise-dampening ceiling tiles. The design team chose Armstrong Healthzone ceiling tiles, in part because they are manufactured using high-recycled content. They also provide increased Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) ratings, making them ideal for use in clinical corridors and patient rooms. They are washable, durable, stain-resistant, and have anti-bacterial surfaces that support infection control practices.

The increased NRC ratings improve the acoustics of the space, reducing noise levels and improving patient comfort. These ceiling tiles not only reduce the environmental impact of the facility but also promote a safe and healthy environment for patients and staff.

A Holistic Approach

These three types of sustainable materials are just part of the holistic approach the design team used for the new Hospital. The final product prioritizes the health and well-being of patients and staff, using sustainable materials that are safe, durable, and environmentally responsible.

Fritted window glazing featuring materials meant to reduce bird collisions and cut cooling costs, judicious use of calming colours, images of indigenous plants throughout the interior, and pleasing natural materials that promote safety, combine to make HSC Women’s Hospital an excellent example of organic design in healthcare.

Through thoughtful planning, a hospital can indeed be at once sympathetic to its surroundings, while minimizing environmental impact, and improving healing rates for patients.

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