How do you design a better hospital? Start with the light

Just as medicine Care evolved from bloodletting to germ theory, and the medical spaces inhabited by patients were transformed as well. Today, architects and designers are trying to find ways to make hospitals more comfortable, hoping that comfortable spaces will lead to a better recovery. But building for healing involves just as much empathy as synthesizing hard, cold statements.

“Keeping people calm may be part of the best care, and giving them space to be alone — things that may seem trivial but are really important,” says Annmarie Adams, a professor at McGill University who studies the history of hospital engineering.

In the 19th century, famous nurse Florence Nightingale popularized the suite’s scheme, which includes suites: large rooms with long rows of beds, large windows, plenty of natural light, and plenty of ventilation. These designs were based on the theory that damp interior spaces spread disease. But the suites provide almost no privacy for patients and require a lot of space, which is difficult to find in increasingly densely populated cities. It also meant a lot of walking for the nurses, who had to walk up and down the aisles.

Over the next century, this focus on natural light faded in favor of prioritizing sterile spaces that would limit the spread of germs and accommodate a growing array of medical equipment. After World War I, the new standard was to group patient rooms around the nurses’ center. These designs were easier for nurses, who no longer had to walk long corridors, and were cheaper to heat and build. But they retained some of the trappings of old residential treatment facilities, such as sanatoriums where patients could recover for long periods of time; Adams wrote in a 2016 article on hospital engineering for Journal of the Canadian Medical Association. This design, she said, is meant to give people confidence in the institution: “a tool of persuasion rather than healing.”

In the late 1940s and 1950s, hospitals transformed again, this time becoming office-like buildings with no frills or many features intended to improve the experience of being there. “They’re really designed to be practical and effective,” says Jesse Reich, M.D., director of patient and magnet experience programs at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. She points out that many of these rooms have no windows at all.

By the mid-20th century, the hospital had become somewhat of the opposite of what Florence Nightingale envisioned, and many of those buildings, or those modeled after them, are still in use today. “The modular hospital is designed as a machine for delivering care, but not as a place for healing,” says Shaun Sensor, Principal at Safdie Architects, a company that recently designed a hospital in Cartagena, Colombia. “I think what’s missing is empathy for people as human beings.”

Although Nightingale was operating largely based on anecdotal evidence of the importance of light and ventilation, she was right — but it took more than a century for scientists to gather quantitative data to back it up. For example, a A pivotal study in 1984 Posted in Science Follows patients after gallbladder surgery. The 25 patients whose rooms overlooked greenery had shorter hospital stays and took fewer painkillers than the 23 patients whose windows faced a brick wall.

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