curated by M.T.I. interior design

THE HEALING ENVIRONMENT – guidelines for healthcare interior design

Interior design is a powerful tool: it has the power to influence a distinct atmosphere for better or worse.  If you think about it, it’s pretty simple: an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel anxious, sad, or helpless.

This should really be taken in consideration when designing a healthcare environment – a hospital for example. But before we get into how, when you think of one what comes to your mind? If you’re like me you’d get images of perplexing corridors, sterile dull rooms,  sharp smells, outdated furniture and a sense of fear and desperation. None of those immediate thoughts you’re having right now are probably positive. A hospital is the kind of place most people would rather avoid as much as they can.

If a built environment can influence our feeling and health, why don’t we use this powerful tool in the design of healthcare institutions and make the visit at least a little bit more tolerable? I am so happy to see, that some modern-day hospitals are trying to change that. It was hard for anyone to imagine hospitals or medical facilities as friendly, attractive, and beautiful spaces until the past few years. No matter if it’s a patient’s room in a hospital, the waiting room in a medical center or an exam room in a dentist’s office, new healthcare interior design guidelines all have one thing in common. They strive to create spaces which welcome patients into a safe, comfortable, and relaxing environment that helps to reduce stress levels for patients, visitors and employees. They are slowly becoming healing environments.

Design isnt just an aesthetic luxury in health care; its a core, health-related area. Were learning that when you use scientific evidence to drive the design of health care environments and processes, you impact a wide variety of factors, from medical errors and nosocomial infections to stress and staff turnover. Medical care cannot be separated from the buildings in which it is delivered.

Robert Horsburgh


Medical and healthcare interior design is a challenge even for experienced interior designers and architects. One of the reasons is that it is not easy to find a way to create a unique interior, if most aspects are regulated by law. It is important to follow specific rules when designing a healthcare interior. Simply put, the design must be a response to written and accepted functional and hygienic standards. But this doesn’t mean the design part is forgotten and therefore  shouldn’t result in a dull interior  without a soul. The solution is finding a balance between the regulations and innovative design choices that can result in a healing environment. 


Numerous elements contribute to making a space a healing environment. Sensory inputs – what staff and patients see, hear, smell and feel all make an impact. Layout and architecture do too. According to the the article by Whole Health library, healthcare architects, interior designers, and researchers came up with four key points that can measurably improve patient outcome and experience. They include: reducing or eliminating environmental stressors, providing positive distractions, enabling social support, and giving a sense of control. Here’s how design can achieve these key points ,

Enhance Connection to nature

Within healthcare, studies have shown the phenomenal effects of incorporating nature in design. Researchers have found the appropriate use of nature reduces stress levels, improves health results, supports pain management, and promotes a sense of overall well-being among patients, visitors, and staff. A little bit of nature can go a long way. Whether it comes through a piece of art, or a stroll in a garden, this connection to nature can be a positive distraction that greatly relieves stress. Now more than ever, it’s necessary to bring the outdoors in and create indoor environments – biophilic interiors, that reference nature in both obvious and subtle ways.


Natural light plays a vital role in the healing environment. The effect of light on human life is well documented. It’s one of our fundamental sources of life that governs our biological rhythms and hormones. The absence of daylight can have serious impact on health and, therefore, lighting should be well integrated into any healthcare design. In turn, access to daylight can also provide views outside. This can be a great relief for patients. Ambient lighting can also provide a sense of wellbeing in healthcare facilities. 

Home away from home

Through careful consideration of colours, furniture, lighting and other elements, patients are made to feel at-home. The organisation of furniture can offer a relaxing space that enables relaxed social interaction.  Which then reduces loneliness – by creating communal spaces people want to spend time in. A personal touch, such as a favourite magazine, colour, even music, that can be added to the patient room goes a long way in making the patient feel more comfortable.

The power of contorl

A greater sense of control equals less stress. If people can control their surroundings, e.g. if they can adjust a thermostat, choose music or TV channels, decide where they want to sit, or control the timing and content of their meals, they will be better off. Being able to bring comforting items from home, if desired, can allow for a heightened sense of control and familiarity.

Noise reduction – pay atention to sound

Something else which can add to the overall wellness of a patient is noise reduction. This can be achieved partly through architectural planning (not overcrowding beds and arranging rooms with noise management in mind), as well as through the choice of materials. Many health care settings, have begun to play peaceful music in waiting rooms and other locations (not including exam rooms). Music is known to have a number of health benefits, such as decreasing anxiety levels and reducing heart and respiratory rates.

Ensure people can find their way – wayfinding

Starting off on the wrong foot because patients cannot find your facility, or because people cannot find their way around it once they arrive, is not conducive to an optimal healing environment experience. Clear directions can also give a sense of comfort and control to patients staying in large facilities.

Encourage Playfulness

We can incorporate design elements that encourage and create opportunities to play. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.



Wooden elements and greenery are intended to create a relaxing atmosphere and a home-like feeling at this doctor’s office and clinic in New York, designed by Alda Ly Architecture for a startup company that takes an alternative approach to healthcare.

“ALA deployed biophilic design principles to create a calming, comfortable care office that breaks from industry norms. The space encompasses health coaching and exam rooms, a member lounge with café, a diagnostic testing lab, and administrative offices. At the entrance, a reception desk guides visitors to a luminous, plant-filled member lounge. The east-west corridor’s considered lighting design allows for comfortable, safe, and seamless navigation—a biophilic concept known as “Prospect”—and lighting throughout was selected to positively impact Circadian rhythms.” – Alda ly architecture

All photos curtesy of ALDA LY ARCHITECTURE -Parsley health NYC by, Photos by Reid Rolls


What about the experience of the little ones? Design studio Integrated Field has created a playful interior filled with animals and clouds to provide an enjoyable experience for children at the Akachai hospital in Thailand.

“For the kids, luxury isn’t something that can comfort them from the pain, fear for needles or even the bitterness of the medicine. We, therefore, look for the things that will bring them happiness throughout their experience at the hospital. With the children’s mindset, we discover that ‘fun’ is what every child instinctively looks for. Despite their different backgrounds, all kids want to live their lives looking for something fun to do. Using this element of ‘fun’ as the key becomes a great challenge considering how we have to approach the design from the perspective of a child (which we, unfortunately, don’t have that much left) while constantly reminding ourselves that we would actually have to make a hospital a ‘fun’ place.” – Integrated Filed

All photos curtesy of Integrated Field – Ekachai hospital, Photos by Ketsiree Wongwan


The Utrecht-based Domstate Zorghotel is more a contemporary 4-star hotel then a rehabilitation centre. Designed by Dutch architecture studio Van Eijk & Van Der Lubbe to facilitate its patients’ healing and recovery in a well-designed, warm and encouraging environment.

In creating an ambiance that is less institutional, patients are given an encouraging reminder to progress in anticipation of rejoining the outside world. “We have created a healing environment,” the studio states. “One that contributes to recovery, not only in the therapy rooms, but especially in every other part of the care hotel as well.”

CONCLUSION – the healing environment

The future of healthcare facilities will place the patient and their experience at the top of its priorities. It will do this, partially, by harnessing the potential of architecture and design. The design and architecture of  a healthcare facility will in itself aid the healing process. I am looking forward to see, what the future is going to bring in this sector.

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