Twenty years ago, a research study found that hospital patients
with views of nature rather than brick walls went home three quarters
of a day earlier, used $500 less in services and medicines, required
fewer heavy medications and exhibited better emotional well-being.
The study was conducted by Roger S. Ulrich, who published the results
in 1984. Today, anyone trying to connect human healing and sustainable
building practices begins by citing the Ulrich study.
A lot has happened since then, and continuing research has shown
that sustainable health-care facility design also affects the recruitment
and retention of staff, improves productivity, enhances safety and
provides a host of other benefits that ultimately contribute to
the patient healing process. As more of these design strategies
are implemented in the health-care industry, evidence will continue
to show that carefully considering sustainable design will provide
not only environmental benefits, but healing benefits as well.
Research illustrates just how tightly intertwined environmental
and human health can be. Studies show that night-shift workers are
more alert when exposed to intermittent bright light rather than
a constant light level. Preterm infants sleep better and gain more
weight in intensive care units where light is cycled down at night.
Adult patients have a more restful night if lights in hallways are
dimmed. These simple and energy-saving changes have been proven
to result in more alert night workers and faster patient recovery
Health-care companies around the country are embracing these sustainable
building ideas, adopting practices and constructing facilities with
sustainable features that benefit the environment and patients.
Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest non-profit health
system, is developing facility designs that call for alternatives
to products and materials containing formaldehyde, mercury and PVC.
Kaiser was an early adopter of the Green Guide for Health Care,
a hospital-focused sustainable design program similar to the Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guide for health-care
facilities. The two programs use very similar strategies, but differ
in that LEED is a third-party certification and ratings tool, and
the Green Guide is a voluntary, self-certifying tool.
Sustainable strategies contained in these guides include descriptions
of site orientation of buildings, exterior building design, interior
lighting, daylighting, flooring, heating and air conditioning ventilation
and much more. The guide also provides information on increasing
the amount of glass for daylighting entrances, waiting rooms, nurse’s
stations, staff lounges and treatment areas. Another focus suggests
using alternatives to chlorinated materials, and selecting rubber
flooring over high gloss vinyl composition tile to eliminate the
need to regularly wax floors and reduce slips and falls. With rising
asthma cases in health-care workers, the guide also provides material
selection ideas and maintenance procedures to reduce mold and mildew,
and recommends using products with minimal amounts of volatile organic
compounds. A comprehensive list of sustainable ideas is available
in the latest version of the Green Guide for Health Care.
Learn from Others
New strategies for sustainable design can be learned from more than
just guides. Look at what designers are doing with today’s
hospitals, medical office buildings and other health-care facilities.
Make note of these inspired ideas to help create sustainable design
concepts that can meet your company’s needs.
At a planned replacement hospital in South Florida, designers have
developed an innovative solar shading concept through a sloping
façade where each floor provides shade for the floor below
it. The building also limits east and west exposures, making it
easier to shade the windows. The design will reduce the facility’s
heat gain and glare, making patients and staff more comfortable.
The Heart Hospital at SwedishAmerican in Rockford, Ill., employs
a sustainable design concept called “Places of Respite.”
These virtual landscapes of plants on every floor provide a place
for patients and visitors to decompress from the stress of the hospital
environment and enjoy an atmosphere where plants naturally help
filter the air and provide humidity.
The Oregon Health and Science University Patient Care Facility in
Portland created healing gardens on its roof. Terraces constructed
on both the seventh and ninth floors feature gardens of drought-tolerant
plants and herbs for patients to visit or enjoy by watching from
their rooms. These gardens help foster the healing process and capture
and use storm water for irrigation, reducing the harmful environmental
effects associated with storm water runoff.
Michelle Halle Stern is an architect at the Chicago office of
Perkins+Will. She manages green building research for the firm’s
national health-care market sector.