Healthcare Facility Design Connects Nature, Healing

Patient-centric buildings are increasingly important, and the human desire to be near nature plays a vital role in healthcare facility design.

With growing concern about climate change, today’s healthcare facility designers and architects are focused on finding sustainable, cost effective solutions that can also help improve patient wellness.

Biophilic design, for example, can promote human health and well-being while addressing climate change concerns. According to the University of Central Arkansas, Art and Design, “biophilic design promotes physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being in humans when implemented in the built environment.”

Positive impacts of biophilic design can include reduced stress levels, faster healing, and enhanced creativity. Biophilic design principles that can promote human health and well-being include, day-lighting, color, living architecture, and ventilation.

healthcare facility design
Emory’s Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) Empowerment Program Center for specialized care in Atlanta, GA. (All images courtesy of NELSON Worldwide)

To explore this and other current trends in healthcare facility design, Facility Executive talked with NELSON Worldwide Regional Practice Leader Joshua Crews, AIA, ADAC and Senior Designer Heather Fellows, LEED GA, EDAC for an exclusive question and answer session focused on healthcare facility design.

With an understanding that healthcare facilities are more than just healing environments, the Minneapolis-based architecture, interior design, graphic design, and brand strategy firm focuses on intentional, impactful ideas that put positive patient outcomes first. NELSON Worldwide’s Healthcare Practice integrates core principles of well-being into healthcare design to create the best possible experience for patients.

NELSON Worldwide
Joshua Crews, AIA, ADAC, Regional Practice Leader, NELSON Worldwide
NELSON Worldwide
Heather Fellows, LEED GA, EDAC, Senior Designer, NELSON Worldwide
Facility Executive: How are today’s most pressing climate concerns impacting the design of healthcare facilities?

Crews and Fellows: Sustainability and resiliency are always a part of the conversation when setting guiding principles for healthcare projects. Across multiple scales, from infrastructure, to products, materials, finishes, and furniture selections, sustainable choices impact designs. As healthcare designers, we aim to be good stewards of the environment and provide a safe haven when needed.

FE: What are the latest sustainability trends in the design and construction of healthcare facilities?

C&F: Today, products, materials, and strategies are positioned for longevity with long life cycles and objectives for resiliency to local climates. Hospitals are also designed with systems focused on reduced energy consumption with programs such as Energy Star Certification and LEED principles to result in a smaller carbon footprint for an energy-intensive building typology. The WELL Building Standard, specifically addressing air, water, and light, is being implemented across healthcare facilities by creating built environments with an intentional positive impact on wellbeing for all occupants.

FE: How about design strategies when it comes to interior furnishings and materials?

C&F: We address sustainability at this scale with locally sourced products and materials. For example, it is important to source flexible furniture, with multiple uses and arrangements and high durability. Materials are selected often when they are made from recycled products and produce low VOCs. It is important to also select materials that have been produced with a reduced carbon footprint and intentionally partner with manufacturers that are Carbon Neutral Enterprise certified and lead the industry in positive environmental impact.

FE: How do climate and sustainability issues intersect with patient wellness concerns in healthcare facilities?

C&F: Increasing temperature variations in localized climates increases the need for heating and cooling inside buildings. We also utilize daylighting, the practice of placing windows and other openings in areas where sunlight can provide internal lighting. It’s a passive design system that capitalizes on daylight and solar gain.

FE: What is biophilia, and how does it address both climate and patient wellness goals in healthcare facilities?

C&F: Biophilia by definition is supported through evidence-based-design (EBD) and the connection of the healing properties of nature to the human experience. Through biophilic design, natural elements are intentionally and thoughtfully interpreted into the built environment.

FE: Looking ahead, what trends do you see on the horizon for healthcare facilities?

C&F: As patient choice increases, health systems can shape the patient experience through creating a built environment with sustainability and biophilic design. Patient-centric design is increasingly important and the human desire to be near nature plays a vital role in the design of healthcare facilities.

Read more facility management news related to healthcare facilities.

Innovative Healthcare Facility Promotes Comfort, Confidence

In a collaborative effort with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory Health, NELSON Worldwide recently designed the Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) Empowerment Program Center in Atlanta, GA. Using evidence-based design strategies, the firm developed a space that allows patients to feel comfortable, confident, and at home. The key drivers for the project were engagement and respect to create an environment that allows healthcare professionals and caregivers to take a holistic approach to empower individuals diagnosed with MCI.

healthcare facilities

The design team incorporated elements that bring the outside in to leverage the health and well-being benefits of nature, including a variety of plants and a soothing color palette of greens. The flooring features natural wood grain patterns and carpet with color and design reminiscent of moss, which supports both the goal of including nature while also adding a pop of color. The perimeter of the center is almost entirely surrounded by windows to welcome an abundance of natural lighting.

biophilic design

healthcare facility designThroughout the facility, a variety of flexible space types and technology allows patients to participate in activities to restore the aging process and promote cognitive function and provide caregivers with tools to better support independent living. As a result, patients now have a space for sharing and a community that promotes reconnection and rehabilitation.

healthcare facility design

healthcare facilities