If we are to provide hospital environments that maintain a sense of optimism and quality interior design, architecture, art and sustainability must be integrated from design inception.
A design can achieve various levels of emotional response: done well, there will be feelings of calm, security and well-being for staff, patients, carers and visitors. It is important to seek a cohesive design solution while providing each floor or department with its own identity; patients are reassured by 'a sense of familiarity'.
Interior design covers many aspects including wayfinding, circulation, orientation from the viewpoint of the patient and the journey around the hospital. It also includes door furniture, materials on floors, ceilings, and walls, and details of bump rails, doorframes etc.
Colour, materials, artwork and graphics can ease wayfinding and define thresholds while giving identity to the building and to the floors and departments within the building, encompassing barrier-free design for people with a variety of disabilities. The choice of materials is critical in terms of touch, feel, appearance, durability, maintenance and infection control. Furthermore, due to pressures from the external environment, materials need to be produced from renewable sources that do not impact on macro- or micro-environments.
A successful strategy, which will not only comply with all legislation and NHS guidance but will also tackle issues of sustainability, should integrate an interior design philosophy and arts strategy. This should be done in close consultation with the NHS Trust, with staff and with users.
The wellbeing of patients and staff, and patients' recovery time, are affected directly by the use of appropriate colour and by the choice of materials. These elements create emotional, physical and behavioural responses in all of us, but the effect is more acute in children and when we are ill. A healthy environment is assisted by daylight, colour and clarity, and through the use of natural materials and creative lighting.
Wherever possible, one should connect interior circulation spaces with the outside.
Front-of-house designs for receptions and waiting areas should be cheerful and optimistic. Hospital streets are the main arteries of the hospital, and so are important in terms of wayfinding and familiarity.
Areas behind the scenes should give a slightly different feel of reassurance and professionalism. Individual rooms may have a function that needs brightness to distract and calm, for example, treatment cubicles in children's A&E. Alternatively, they may require a very calm or domestic character, such as an interview room on an oncology ward where bad news is being given to relatives.
Attractive surroundings help patients to feel comfortable and at ease. Art can enhance colour and texture and create dramatic effects. This does not only mean having pictures on walls but includes media such as floor finishes and designs, fabrics, music and sculpture. Artists should be encouraged to work with the wider community to incorporate pieces of art that reflect directly the surroundings of the hospital and community. This could include working with schools, voluntary groups and arts organisations that are often willing to help.
Lee Cheong is an associate with BDP Interior Design Associate. Contact lee-cheong@bdp.