Although many of us live in urban spaces, we cannot ignore the importance of nature and green spaces in our lives. Not just a utopian ideal, biophilic design centred around incorporating nature into architecture has been definitively linked to many types of positive health outcomes. Just as any medicine must prove that it works before it is sold to the public, evidence based research in the design and build of health facilities proves the value of biophilic design.
Early 1900s post card of Leamington Spa Royal Pump Room Gardens
People and medical experts have long believed in the benefits of fresh air and the great outdoors. Our own offices in Leamington Spa overlook gardens designed for healing the patients using the Pump Room spa waters which have given our town its name. Doctors at the time would prescribe evening strolls around the local gardens.
Shinrin-yoku, Forest Bathing
In the 1980s, Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, became popular in Japan. This romanticised expression for spending time amongst trees has since been scientifically proven to bolster our immune systems and decrease stress via phytoncides released as natural tree oils into the air.
In health care, a well referenced 1984 study by Ulrich compared recovering surgical patients with views of a natural scene and a brick wall. The patients who could see nature out of their windows took fewer painkillers, gave more positive scores on feedback about the care they received, and had shorter post-operative hospital stays. These quantitative measures prove the benefits of green views on health. Further research shows that green spaces impact mental health too.
Meer Cat enclosure at the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital
The Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital in Australia has taken this a step further, and collaborated with Melbourne Zoo to incorporate a Meer Cat enclosure into a hospital courtyard. As well as the benefit of nature, this also serves as distraction for sick children. Some even look forward to visiting the hospital!
Herzog and de Meuron’s winning proposal for Children’s Hospital Zurich featuring circular courtyard
Green spaces in the form of courtyards not only enhance proximity to healing nature in safely enclosed spaces, but also increase natural light. Incorporating courtyard design into buildings for health care has many benefits.
Increasingly, developers are justifying the inclusion of meaningful green space in health and aged care facilities. We never know when we might unexpectedly find ourselves in healthcare facilities or aged care facilities as a patient or visitor, spending time with our loved ones. To help ourselves, as well as future proof our rapidly growing stock of health and aged care facilities, now is the time to incorporate biophilia into health care design.
References and further reading