Health-Giving Design

Healthcare clients are enlisting interior designers to help create safe, comforting places for their patients. Here’s how you can help.

by James Williamson, IIDA, LEED AP

No one can predict the future, but we’re all interested in speculating on what it will be like. We have reached a consensus that healthcare design—far from following a trend—is actually leading the way in design. It’s no secret that innovative healthcare facilities are in higher demand than ever before. According to recent design firm statistics for 2013, the third market sector in construction fees by project type is healthcare/assisted living. Firm revenues can also be divided among building types nationwide, with 17 percent coming from the design of healthcare facilities.

Rejecting the bland and sterile hospital clichés, modern healing facilities are opting to enlist the help of interior designers to instill cutting-edge technology, comfort and style in their environments. In today’s project landscape, the integral members of the design team aren’t just designers and interior architects—they have expanded to include facility managers and hospital staff, and they approach each project from a patient and staff-centered point of view.

One of the biggest factors affecting the next 10 years of healthcare design will be the rapid emergence of new technologies. Predictive health—keeping people well instead of treating them only when they’re sick—is now supported through technology. We’re also seeing the advancement of nanotechnology, and more use of telemedicine and home monitoring equipment to observe and treat patients, including “do-it-yourself” diagnostic apps for smartphones and tablets. Interior spaces will have to react to these technological advances, such as through the use of accessible, interactive touchscreen sensor monitors.

And while the healthcare industry has traditionally placed a premium on performance over aesthetic considerations, we now see the tide turning as evidence-based and generative design have become staples in many healthcare facilities. For example, the recently-opened Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia (profiled in the November 2012 issue of I&S) incorporates evidence-based design by embracing the therapeutic benefits of nature, which underpins the overall design concept. The hospital’s uplifting interior—through window accessibility, immersive indoor aquariums and interactive video screens—maintains positive moods among healthcare workers and patients alike with naturally lit public spaces.

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