Evidence-based hospital design

Most hospitals give me the creeps. They are sterile, disorienting, and intimidating places. Down never-ending hallways, harsh fluorescent lights glare off of cold white walls and gray linoleum flooring. Not my favorite place to visit.
image source
Ug, I know this is supposed to be an improvement, as the color below the chair-rail is different, but yuck. Typical hospital...

But thankfully, changes are being made. Today’s leading healthcare design professionals are using principals of evidence-based design to create a “total healing environment” for patients, families and staff. They are looking for ways to reduce stress and encourage healing through design.

image source
What a novel concept! Well, to designers and most of you who read this blog, I would think it's a no-brainer. But I am amazed by the lack of understanding that runs rampant in the commercial development world. It's all about the bottom line, and what will make the most money. So, if standard fluorescent tubes are cheaper than full spectrum compact fluorescents, the price always wins, even though the therapeutic value of full spectrum lighting has been proven to improve an environment's conditions.

image source

But where is the most important place to add color to a hospital? Tara Hill, a designer who deals specifically with medical facilities, says this: "You have to start with the patient experience. From the moment the patient walks through the door, you have to make them comfortable and let them know they are in safe hands. You have to start with the lobby and follow the patient throughout the facility — waiting rooms, exam rooms and patient rooms. They should look at all public areas."(source)

Here's an interesting tid bit of history. The concept of designs that integrate into healing environments dates back to ancient Egypt and Greece. Supposedly, they built temples where color healing took place. One such temple was located in Heliopolis, the Greek city of the sun, and was famous for it's healing temples. Sunlight shone through colored gems, such as rubies and sapphires, onto people seeking healing. It's thought that "the sick were color-diagnosed and then put into one of the rooms surrounding the temple that radiated the particular color prescribed.”(source)

image source

The Chinese agree with this idea of color for healing: color is regarded as cosmic energy—ch'i—that can shape energy and destiny.

Du Pont has a new line of commercial surfaces, called the Corian Healing Colors Collection, that capitalizes on this approach to environmental design. It uses natural elements and color palettes that reflect nature, to help create a healing atmosphere for patients and positive working environment for staff.
  • H2O Relaxing blues and greens to help promote tranquility.
  • Flame Vibrant, energizing hues to help promote vitality.
  • Earth Natural stone and earth tones to help promote comfort.
  • Wood Soothing, green and brown hues to help promote peacefulness.
  • Alloy Clean, reflective grays and charcoals for pleasing contrasts.
  • Oxygen Light, airy colors to help promote serenity.
Here's a little bit more about their Flame line
Flame colors are festive, seductive, and dynamic, like the ambient glow of flickering candlelight. With shades of red, wine, rust, marigold and bronze, Flame colors warm the spirit and inspire optimism, which may make them ideal for areas focused on increasing patient energy such as orthopedic therapy areas or children’s cardiology centers. Like a warm fireside glow, Flame colors can illuminate an environment to promote vigor and vitality."(source)

Hm, not sure I agree with this completely, as some of these colors are awfully bright. I've heard from professional designers who work in the hospital industry that red should be avoided, because of its association with blood. but I suppose if used as accents, or in areas that are not related to surgery, that it might work. What do you all think about this?

So, how do you separate true empirical data from “pseudo-scientific assertions”? A study by the Coalition of Health Environment Research concluded, amongst other things, that

The popular press and the design community have promoted the oversimplification of the psychological responses to color. Many authors of guidelines tend to make sweeping statements that support myths or personal beliefs. Likewise, most color guidelines for healthcare design are nothing more than affective value judgments whose direct applicability to the architecture and interior design of healthcare settings seems oddly inconclusive and nonspecific. The authors of the color study would advise against the creation of universal guidelines for appropriated colors in healthcare settings. The complexity of user groups and the multiple uses of the environment make efforts to prescribe universal guidelines a waste of energy.(source)

I completely agree with this. This is SO important. People want cookie cutter information, a fail-safe recipe that will work every time, in every environment. It's just not possible, and to over-simply color is to undermined its inherent value.

Not what most hospital administrators will want to hear, but alas, there's no easy answer when it comes to color. I'm sure glad people are beginning to pay more attention to it, though!