Integrating the Natural World into Healthcare Facilities

The natural world has a myriad of health benefits for patients of all types.

By Jeff Wardon, Jr., Assistant Editor

Humans are both naturally and historically tied to nature, so it comes as no surprise that incorporating natural elements into healthcare settings is an increasingly popular concept. There are numerous benefits of doing so, such as aiding in the healing process for patients. 

One way is through lighting arrangements. In inpatient scenarios where it may not be medically safe to have lamps around, natural lighting can be worked in instead, says Ashlee Washington, senior associate, NCIDQ at Ankrom Moisan. Healthcare designers look at ways to bring in the warmth and natural textures to maximize the ability for patients to benefit from nature. 

“There is a lot of well documented science backing that we are ultimately creatures that exist in nature and are from nature,” Washington says. “Plants and wood textures/tones help reduce stress levels to calm and recenter us. There are a variety of methods to implement that.” 

That can be done through biophilia, which means incorporating various aspects of nature into the facility. Examples of this would be wooden or plant-like textures, colors/tones seen in nature, natural lighting and water fountains. 

Another way to incorporate the outdoors is actually providing patients with access to outdoor spaces, which Washington says can be especially beneficial for behavioral healthcare facilities where patients can be inside for extended periods of time. The outdoors provides mental stimulation for patients of all types, too. 

“To be able to have that time outdoors in the fresh air as part of their [the patients] therapeutic environment is critical for the success of their care,” Washington says. “If nature is significant to your culture or life, that also becomes therapeutic. Patients benefit not only from contact with nature, but they also benefit in a way from addressing the historical trauma around having your ability to grow or work with the Earth taken away from you.” 

One example is the project Washington worked on where Ankrom Moisan and her provided opportunities for community gardens, enabling people to work together. That helps build an aspect of community and belonging at the healthcare facility by cooperating with each other to achieve a common goal, says Washington.  

That idea of dedicated outdoor spaces in healthcare facilities (such as community gardens) also extends into the concept of “therapeutic gardens.” These are outdoor spaces made so that both patients and staff can take a break from the internal world of the facility and relax as they return to a more natural setting outside. If this is something a healthcare facility wishes to incorporate, it must be prioritized early in the design process, says Washington.  

“More and more, we are hearing a desire to integrate outdoor experiences for healing purposes and for folks who just do not want to be in an indoor environment because of their sensitivities,” says Hao Duong, principal at Ankrom Moisan. “Really, I think we are going to see a growing trend of creating purposeful spaces outdoors for healing scenarios in the future.” 

Jeff Wardon, Jr. is the assistant editor for the facilities market. 

February 15, 2024

Topic Area: Interior Design

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