In his opinion piece, Designing for Calm, Roger S. Ulrich writes about violence against care workers in psychiatric hospitals and suggests that one of the solutions to this problem could be better design of the facilities these patients live in.
“For patients, the stress of mental illness itself can be intensified by the trauma of being confined for weeks in a locked ward. A care facility that’s also noisy, lacks privacy and hinders communication between staff and patients is sure to increase that trauma. Likewise, architectural designs that minimize noise and crowding, enhance patients’ coping and sense of control, and offer calming distractions can reduce trauma.”
I couldn’t agree more. To this I would like to add one more suggestion – outdoor healing spaces.
And this is true not just for psychiatric wards, but for hospitals, nursing homes, and all other places where people go to recover and heal.
After my treatments and surgeries for breast cancer I spent a lot of time in a hospital. Lying in an ugly, impersonal, noisy room I longed for beauty, color, quiet. But more than anything else, I longed for fresh air. The hospital had no balconies, gardens or outdoor spaces. I lay in my room looking at a closed window with a view of the parking lot imagining that I was sitting on a shady bench in a pretty garden.
The same hospital recently spent millions of dollars adding luxuries like jacuzzi tubs to many rooms, but not a single balcony or garden was added to the complex.
My mother spent the last year of her life in a nursing home. Ravaged by Alzheimer’s Disease she didn’t know who she was, she didn’t know who we were, and there were almost no pleasures left for her to enjoy. But every day, when I visited and took her for a walk in the nearby park, she took a deep breath of fresh air and turned her face towards the sun like a sunflower.
The nursing home had an enclosed green space, but the staff was so busy they had no time to take the patients outside. When my mother couldn’t walk any more, I asked the nurses if I could take her into the garden and I volunteered to watch other Alzheimer’s patients as they walked around and enjoyed the air.
I will never forget as men and women slowly ventured outside through that open door. Alzheimer’s Disease robs patients of smiling and displays of emotion but these people demonstrated their joy in other ways. Some walked around in wonder, stepping on shadows or looking at the sunlight. Some sat on the ground, delicately caressing blades of grass. Some held hands. Everyone was quiet.
The nurses later told me that it was the quietest night they had in the facility for a very long time. Tired out form walking and breathing fresh air, the patients slept peacefully through the night.
Gardens and green spaces have been an integral part of convalescent design since ancient times. I understand that restrictions in urban spaces force us to build high rise medical facilities, but that should not prevent us from including gardens and green spaces.
Think of hospitals with balconies (safely but beautifully enclosed) with vertical gardens and comfortable chairs where patients can sit for hours in the fresh air, instead of watching television. Think of meandering walkways designed around the outer perimeter of the building where patients can walk slowly and build up their strength so they can heal faster.
Think of the kind of hospital or nursing home that you’d like to stay in.Bosco Verticale, a 27-story structure, currently under construction in Milan, Italy
Bosco Verticale is an apartment building but the ideas implemented in this innovative space would work beautiful for convalescent spaces as well.
“Each apartment in the building will have a balcony planted with trees that are able to respond to the city’s weather — shade will be provided within the summer, while also filtering city pollution; and in the winter the bare trees will allow sunlight to permeate through the spaces. Plant irrigation will be supported through the filtering and reuse of the greywater produced by the building. Additionally, Aeolian and photovoltaic energy systems will further promote the tower’s self-sufficiency.” Read More.