A new, patient-centered hospital discovers an identity it didn’t expect: ultra-green.
Hospitals weren’t always so antiseptic. The ancient Greco-Romans received health care while luxuriating at public baths. In fact many cultures — even as recently as the 20th century — were as likely to associate “medicine” with healing mineral springs as they were with crisp hospital corridors in starch white and pistachio green.
But by the 1950s, hospitality was almost completely divorced from its linguistic cousins, hospital and hospice. During that era, many hotels became sensory delights, but health care took those concepts — sound, light, color, design — and excised them with a scalpel.
Today that’s changing in a big way, according to health-care design experts. The newest hospitals have private rooms with views of trees and vegetation; landscaped healing gardens; indirect, pleasant lighting; museum-quality artwork; and chef-created meals delivered only when the patient feels ready to eat.
At the brand-new Ahuja Medical Center in Beachwood, Ohio, for instance, “guests” are led through a series of “human touchpoints,” including a towering glass-enclosed lobby that overlooks gardens and walking paths. On the far wall is a 36-foot custom art piece — made up of 112 trumpet-shaped glass blooms in azure, citron and amber — by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The patient floors are clad in sound-absorbent wood- and stone-look vinyl, meant to eliminate the irritating squeak of nurses’ shoes on buffed tile. Each private room has a separate zone for family members, complete with a mini-fridge and a sleep sofa. Indirect, energy-efficient lighting in the corridors are positioned to bounce light off the ceiling, creating well-lit spaces that never feel harsh or glaring.

Healthier by design

“The fact is, if people don’t feel like a commodity being pushed through the hospital, they heal faster, they feel better, they don’t get as many infections, and the doctors and nurses don’t make as many errors,” says Shannon Kraus, health-care practice leader at HKS Architects in Washington, D.C. “It’s that simple.”
With the new Ahuja Medical Center, Kraus expected to design a facility that would feel healing and humane. What he didn’t expect: that attending to the human needs of patients and staff would result in a building that would qualify for certification through the U.S. Green Building Council’s prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program at essentially zero extra cost. HKS estimates that University Hospitals, the building’s owner, spent 0.1 percent more to make the building “green” under LEED standards.
To create a hospital where all 144 patient rooms have calming views of trees and green space, Kraus and his team designed a distinct concave building that required 70,000 square feet of glass. The design naturally incorporated a powerful passive solar system and a 17 percent reduction in energy use compared with other large hospitals.
From the time you approach the building, the massing and form is set to appeal to the human scale. A greeter immediately welcomes you to the medical center as you see through the lobby, past the fireplace and to the wetlands beyond.
To cultivate and care for those all-important green spaces, the team incorporated a system of bioswales filled with sand-soil mix, to naturally filter runoff from the parking lot. And they specified seeded-grass fire lanes (which actually helped to reduce the building’s heat index).
“We know from evidence-based design research that color, light, access to nature and control over one’s environment improves clinical outcomes and promotes a sense of calm,” adds Patricia Malick, an Evidence-Based Design Accredited Professional and Principal with Array Healthcare Facilities Solutions in King of Prussia, Pa., the Associate Architect and Interior Designer for the project.
“We utilized nature-inspired colors, textures and patterns that complement the exterior and provide strong visual cues to patients and visitors navigating the building,” Malick says. A variety of beautiful accent colors complement the use of rich wood tones and stone textures, and enhance the overall patient experience when entering the lobby.
Inside the bedrooms and hallways at Ahuja, color plays an important role in the overall experience that Array designed. Array used three and sometimes four colors in every patient room, focusing on soft greens, sunny saffrons and complex purples. The 27 colors include Tranquil Aqua (SW 7611), Empire Gold (SW 0012) and Exclusive Plum (SW 6263). Hues are more saturated in the physical therapy rooms, meant to energize patients and encourage them to physically push themselves. Every shade was mixed in zero VOC Sherwin-Williams Harmony®, which is the coating system of choice for interior surfaces and is a part of the UH interior sustainability standards program. (Editor’s note: Some colors may not be zero VOC after tinting with conventional colorants.)
“Our mission was to create a welcoming place that inspired confidence and encouraged healing and well-being,” says Malick. “So it was really important that we could draw on a rich and varied color palette, comple­ment­­ing the beautiful surrounding environs, while specifying a very safe product.”

What the pros know

During the past 25 years, researchers have been exploring how health and healing intersects with good design. Here are some of the founding principles of evidence-based design (EBD) in health care.
  • A good view counts. Studies show that patients’ pain percent and heart rates are lowered if they have a view of trees and vegetation rather than a brick wall.
  • Nature is the best art. Art that depicts realistic and serene images of nature calms patients. An art collection should be designed to uplift, comfort and calm; to provoke thought and curiosity; to encourage reflection; to delight in the moment; and to inspire confidence and hope.
  • Separate area for family. Researchers have noted that patients, doctors and family members feel more at ease if patient rooms have a distinct area for visiting family members.
  • Predictable patient rooms. Studies have shown that if patients’ rooms are laid out in exactly the same fashion, with equipment stowed in exactly the same place, errors by nurses and doctors drop dramatically.
  • Acoustics matter. Research has demonstrated a strong correlation between ambient noise and communication errors. Many hospital designers have made an extra effort to find materials and cleaning solutions that minimize noise in hospitals. First on the list: no-wax flooring.

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Writer Alyssa Ford specializes in green architecture and interior design.