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Capturing the Healing Effects of Nature in Mental Health Facility Design

In our previous blog post, we explored the history of mental health facility design and the role nature plays in healing. The evidence is clear that a connection with nature helps people recover more quickly and improves long-term health outcomes. Natural environments also enhance employee well-being and may contribute to lower staff turnover. Spending time in or just viewing green spaces can lower our heart rates, reduce muscle tension, and decrease the production of stress hormones.

Person-centred design

When creating mental healthcare facilities, today’s designers embrace the healing power of nature to integrate natural light, scenic views, and natural materials into the design to create supportive spaces that are less stressful and more health-promoting for patients, their visitors, and staff. To this end, details count, such as giving careful thought to traffic flows and establishing quiet rest areas with views of nature.

Three Case Studies:

Bringing the outside in is complicated. Designers have to address the competing needs of users while seamlessly incorporating cutting-edge technology and addressing the limitations of any given building site or the materials that can be used.

Three recent projects designed by Parkin Architects demonstrate how design teams integrate the natural environment to help improve health outcomes. These designs also empathetically consider the sites on which the facilities are situated.

Joseph & Rosalie Segal & Family Health Centre

When Parkin Architects designed the award-winning Joseph & Rosalie Segal & Family Health Centre (JRSFH) at the Vancouver General Hospital, they were challenged by a number of design requirements. Despite being located between a variety of Vancouver General Hospital buildings, with a footprint too tight to provide outdoor ground-level gardens, the designers delivered a space that offers many opportunities for patients and staff to enjoy nature.

By engaging with various stakeholder groups, the design team successfully created a space that helps reduce stress and feels as if it is settled in an urban park while allowing people to be cared for within their own community.

Segal features balconies for each room, large windows, and multiple patios, along with its feature roof-top patio. As the gardens mature, the rooftop patio will become increasingly lush while maintaining walking loops and outdoor activity spaces for all users.

All of these features provide beautiful urban views of the city and surrounding mountains and nature that help patients maintain a visual connection with their city.

Natural light is a key feature experienced almost anywhere you stand in the facility.

(The open-air courtyard at JRSFH provides a secure, quiet shared space where patients can enjoy the outdoors, sheltered from urban traffic. All facility users can enjoy this peaceful view from corridors, bedrooms, and common spaces.)(Patient bedrooms and common areas either provide views outward to the local streetscape, city, and mountains, or inward to a more tranquil outdoor space.)

Center for Mental Health & Addictions (CMHA) Replacement Project

A new 115-bed CMHA project located on the Riverview Lands in Coquitlam, BC, east of Vancouver, will replace the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction in 2021. Located in a park-like setting above Hwy. 7, with mountains to the north and east and the Fraser Valley to the south, the design has successfully preserved existing mature trees and provides views in all directions.

Again, the angled bedroom wings in the new facility will feature varied views of either a courtyard or the surrounding landscape, which will help patients feel connected to nature.

Large, secure patios will be located directly off communal areas for staff and patients’ use. The common therapy spaces offer views of nature from all the main rooms including the Healing Room, Therapy Kitchen, Art Room, Fitness Centre, Staff Office, and Music Room. The orientation of these spaces was designed to create a residential, home-like feeling.

The aim of this therapeutic, trauma-informed facility is to create a healthcare model that addresses the many needs of a patient’s recovery process. The plan prioritizes open, green spaces and therapeutic landscapes to promote space for healing.

Royal Inland Hospital Patient Care Tower, Kamloops

Located on a rise above the historical town centre of Kamloops in the BC Interior, the Royal Inland Hospital (RIH) enjoys spectacular views of the North and South Thompson Rivers, the city, surrounding mountains, and grasslands. A two-phased project, which includes a new 9-storey patient care tower, RIH is slated for completion in 2023. The project will include 30 single rooms for mental health and substance use patients and features secure outdoor spaces to suit the needs of various populations. The project notably includes a separate secure play area for children.

The RIH expansion also aims to improve staff retention and wellness. The design achieves this, in part, by providing access to natural light and expansive views, where possible, from staff rooms and all outdoor staff patios. Shared community access to the new interior atrium and ground floor outdoor patio located near the entrance and coffee shop, importantly, will be shaded from the summer sun by the floor above.

Where the existing building and new tower connect, the 3-storey atrium features a skylight that will provide natural light and time-of-day sky views at all three levels, and will include a large ground floor communal space near the cafeteria. A full-height, super graphic of a renowned local nature scene will add natural beauty to this gathering place for all users.

This building will improve patient care and staff quality of life by connecting its architecture to its natural surroundings.

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