A Sense of Physical & Mental Well-Being

Stobhill Hospital Main Foyer

Stobhill Hospital Main Foyer

Over the last year and for a number of dull reasons (including a dramatic broken pinkie) some of our team have been forced to visit a number of Glasgow’s hospitals.  Needless to say that in each case the medical teams and service staff have been marvellous and many of the hospitals are clearly doing their best to improve the experience of patients by making the best of their facilities.  It therefore feels a teensy bit mean to be critical in any way.  However, as well as being patients we are designers and designers obsessed with people centred design.  So as we sat about in waiting rooms we have each been wondering about some of the design choices that are made for hospital spaces.

In most cases the design philosophy seems to have been selected to reinforce two key themes, cleanliness and technology.  As a result many new hospital foyers have a futuristic ‘Gattaca’ type theme with hard surfaces, cold colours, bright lighting, murals featuring architecture or the city and many plasma screens.  Once past the main foyer treatment spaces can be awash with lavender blues and minty pastel greens when not simply painted white and reception desks are bright white laminate or occasionally corian.

While the majority of these spaces do look clean and contemporary they can lack the human touch and therefore be difficult to connect to.  Some new hospitals are addressing this.  The new building at Stobhill  by Riach and Hall architects includes some wonderful touches including a large quantity of timber which brings colour, warmth and a real connection to nature.  The New Victoria Hospital by HLM Architects also incorporates natural finishes and a central courtyard garden. Our own installation at Rutland surgery includes natural finishes and a timber bench with an inset alpine garden in the waiting area.  In addition it features a number of public artworks which are directly inspired by the community that the surgery serves.

Rutland Surgery Waiting Room

Rutland Surgery Waiting Room

Public Art by Calum Stirling at the New Victoria Hospital

Public Art by Calum Stirling at the New Victoria Hospital

Public art is popular in new hospitals and we have been commissioned to create a number of installations in the past.  The inclusion of natural materials or public art is of course expensive and money is an issue within the NHS. However there are some design features we noticed that could be resolved without costing the earth.   For example, how much better would it be (while waiting or being treated) to stare at a deep forest green wall or indeed a large-scale graphic of a forest in place of a washed out minty green wall with an IKEA clock or an old calendar.

We are fond of referencing architectural author Grant Hildebrant who expands on psychologist Robert Ulrichs idea   “We are biologically predisposed to liking scenes with prominent natural elements.’ We are willing to make some effort to provide ourselves with substitutes. Satisfying this affinity can have a measurable effect on mental and physical well being”

Large scale graphic artwork in St Barts and the London

Large scale graphic artwork in St Barts and the London

We have always felt that our methodology and practice would work well for healthcare and be a solid business move.  After this year’s more personal encounters, we would now say that our interest has moved beyond a mere business objective and has become a genuine and passionately held belief that we can add real value through our people centric approach to these spaces.

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