My previous posts (Restorative Environments parts one and two) presented theories and research cites identifying the role of restorative environments in our lives and in the healing process in healthcare environments.
So if we could get all hospitals to have big windows in the patient rooms with beautiful views to nature and a healing garden available for patients, families and staff, we’d be done in our healing design? Problem solved? Right?
Not so fast.
I believe there’s much more we need to do.
Let’s go back to our elementary school science classes and learning about our five senses: seeing, touching, tasting, smelling and hearing. We rely on our senses to know and understand our world. I do believe the five senses are important in healthcare interior design: we need to see pleasing environments, we need to touch different finishes, smell pleasant aromas, and hear calming and relaxing music in healing facilities.
But these are all physical or biological senses.
Technology has allowed us to understand the connection of our bodies and our brains. Scientists can now watch, using fMRI technology, how parts of our brain work under different visual presentations: how it responds when the test subject sees images of people in pain, in love, showing anger, or viewing grotesque events. We now know that there are physiologic reactions to thoughts, feelings and emotions: blood pressure changes, respiration rates change, and cortisol levels rise,
And in the same way physicians and nurses are being taught to consider the whole patient, architects and designers need to re-think healthcare design.
I think we need some New Five Senses that address the connections we now know between our body and our brain. And in the same way that our biological senses tell us about our environment, I think the New Five Senses tell us about the three-dimensional healing environment and its connection to our body and brain. Let’s look at one of those.
Sense of Place. Designers hear a lot about Biophillia as it speaks to human’s connection to nature. But healing, in modern times, occurs in a built environment! Yes, we can increase the size of windows, use green paint, and upholster our furniture with leaf patterns to address a connection to nature and biophillic concepts.
We might also need to learn about Topophilia which is the affective bond or connection between people and place. Because “place” is not only where biological needs are meet but where our perceptions, attitudes, values and world view are initiated. The more we know about place, the more we experience place, the more real it becomes.
If we have a strong attachment to a place called “home,” there are deep associations with that place: security, comfort, love, belonging. When we have to leave “home,” there are often disruptions to our comfort: we can’t sleep comfortably or its too noisy. There’s also potential disruption to our perceptions, attitudes, values and world view. Its just not familiar: while we usually adapt, it takes a while and we’re often not our real selves until we make that adjustment from the familiar to the unfamiliar. If we don’t adapt, there’s a risk to our perceptions, attitudes, values and world view: the staff isn’t friendly here, the doctor doesn’t care, they don’t like people like me here.
Yet we build hospitals that are so “un-home-like.” We don’t consider the vernacular of the local architecture, we use unknown shapes or finishes, specify furniture we would never use in our homes and don’t encourage or provide options for objects that remind us of our place known as home.
Why do we do this?