Healthcare facilities are supposed to be one of the most basic services in a city. However, do we as designers justify its ‘fundamental’ status? Or are we guilty of focusing only on the services of such buildings? 

Healthcare facilities do not just mean hospitals – they also mean clinics, psychiatric asylums, and retention centres. In difficult situations, humans look for hope more in their surroundings than ever. It is, therefore, imperative to be more thoughtful and sensitive about the design of healthcare than any other type of building. What’s more is that hospitals are not only tension grounds for the patients but also their relatives and friends, which is evident by palpable tension in the air of the waiting rooms.

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Typical waiting area ©www.cleanmiddleeast.ae

Although designing for healthcare facilities do come with certain limitations. Say, for example, material restrictions to avoid breeding of germs and glare on floors as well as other services, or establishing a plan that is simple and easy-to-follow to facilitate smooth wayfinding, or tackling HVAC in the most efficient way possible.

The design of healthcare facilities does not have to change drastically to be more user-friendly. Just a few fundamental but thoughtful interventions could be enough to evoke evolution in the design process. In an experiment, it was observed patients having windows looking upon vistas in their rooms stayed fewer days in the hospital than patients living in windowless rooms or in rooms whose windows captured unpleasant views. Just visual contact with nature has the power to create hope in us. If not windows – paintings or sceneries of nature could also be conducive. This phenomenon is called biophilia.

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Biophilia ©www.pinterest.com

One of the current irritants seems to be that of noise. This noise does not refer to noise outside the premises, but the loud beeping machines in shared I.C.U.s seem to be affecting a patient’s sleep – quality and quantity; installing acoustic panels between beds could help control this. These panels could also help in enhancing privacy and making the patients feel in control of their environment. Privacy is another significant factor – the more patients feel in control of their environment, the less hopeless they feel about the situation they are in. Other ways can also be employed – like providing curtains for windows, providing remote controls to adjust the inclination of their beds, lighting, and ceiling fan speeds.  In daycare facilities – such as dialysis wards – setting beds or tables facing each other could help bring about interactions, further aiding in alleviating stress. 

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No acoustic barriers between beds ©www.serckglobal.com

People visiting patients in the healthcare environment also must be accommodated in healthcare design. In most cases, having to pay a visit to a loved one in the hospital is not a happy time. We can help visitors cope by designing a space that’s more soothing than covered in stark white. One parameter that must be well-taken care of in way-finding. It should be simple to understand and accurately demarcated.  An exemplary example of creative integration in design is in the Evelina Children’s Hospital created by Hopkins Architects. The multi-story design integrates art and architecture to make up for its wayfinding system. Each floor was given an ecological theme – “Ocean” up through “The Arctic” and “Forest” to “Savannah” and “Mountain” to “Sky.” Each of these has a distinctive and appropriate colour and its own set of natural creatures. The colours distinguish the spaces at each level. The creatures are used in the flooring to help way-finding within a ward or department. Complete creatures such as butterflies are to be found at the main arrival point and then progressively fragmented as you go further in. Eventually, a child might find perhaps one wing under the bed. To get back to the main arrival point the creature has to piece back together. This application of art-based thinking is simultaneously distracting, light-hearted, educational, attractive, and practical. 

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Way-finding in hospitals ©www.lhsigns.com
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Evelina Children’s Hospital ©www.evelinalondon.nhs.uk

There exist individuals who use the space even more than the patients – the doctors and the support staff. It is equally important to think of them, too. In designing for healthcare, the providers should not be neglected. Maintaining familiar or standard layouts throughout the facility will make their job easier by not preoccupying them with trivial thoughts like consciously thinking of the bed’s direction in different rooms. 

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Similar Layouts ©www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

It is not to say that architecture plays a more significant role in healing than doctors or equipment; what is undeniable is that during his worst time – man looks at his surroundings for hope and motivation. It might not be conscious or even noticeable to us, but imagine sitting in a dimly lit room with poor ventilation – wouldn’t all those unwanted thoughts consume you?

Practically, it is a mammoth task to change the dynamics of healthcare facilities completely, and it is too sensitive a facility to experiment on a large scale. However, small design experiments such as that at Evelina Children’s Hospital with wayfinding could pave the path for revolutionary changes in healthcare design. It will also attract more budding designers to explore their creativity and problem-solving skills in otherwise such a mundane design process.

References:

  1. Research Paper – Healing Architecture by Bryan R. Lawson
  2. Research Paper – Healing environment: A review of the impact of the physical factors affecting users by E.R.C.M. Huisman, E. Morales, J. van Hoof, H.S.M. Kort
Twinkle Tolani
Author

Twinkle is an architecture student from Nashik, who was schooled in Dubai. Upon being asked where she prefers living, she looks up from her fresh set of Tarot cards and says "in her own world". A good communicator, Twinkle has decided to help in bringing recognition to her fellowship.

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