by Rebecca Dillon
Leading a healthy lifestyle has become standard in today’s world. From organic foods to preventive care to exercise and fitness to office wellness programs, more and more people take part in the practice of self-driven health. It is no longer a matter of just what you eat but a myriad of factors that play a large part in leading us to great health.
When designing healthcare facilities, architects, designers and landscape architects understand that the healing starts in the planning of the structure and its outdoor environment. Healing environments are described as nurturing and therapeutic and most importantly, as places that reduce stress. Not only is reduced stress among residents and patients needed, it is also a key factor in helping staff to better serve their patients. Buildings designed under this premise, promote health, healing, and recovery.
At Gawron Turgeon Architects, we use certain parameters to help us determine the right elements for each healthcare client’s healing environment. Much of the evidence-based design research relates healing spaces to nature and natural elements. That is exactly where we begin, with nature. As humans, we have an innate desire to be connected to nature. Scientific studies support the positive impact that natural forces have on us, and the use of these elements can enrich our environments.
Another parameter is the understanding of how our body and mind experience the built environment. We ingest the space’s volume, proportions, and form, and our perception of the space defines our experience. Along this same vein of experience is the use of our senses. Our sensory experience can evoke emotion. Planning through lighting, sound, color, and texture can promote positive feelings for healing. Lastly, a sense of place and/or spirituality to make a space special should be integrated into the surroundings. Rooms for peaceful respite and décor that can inspire the mind are aspects that should find their way into healthy space planning.
The four areas defined above are a starting place for a larger conversation with stakeholders to discuss promoting healing from the ground up. Through research with patients, families, staff, and more, a lot can be learned to help define these aspects specific to the facility and its environment. No area should be free from being assessed as an area that can help drive the health of the people within the space.
Rebecca Dillon, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, ME & NH, is a licensed architect principal and vice president of architecture at Gawron Turgeon Architects in Scarborough, Maine.