ASID: Places of Respite and Worship in Healthcare Facilities
As a member of a design team that recently completed an award-winning hospital chapel in Tacoma, Washington, it really brought to life for me how these sacred spaces are utilized by the community of patients and staff. The diversity of the people who use these spaces has deemed the identifier of “chapel” obsolete.
The space is referred to as a “meditation room.” At first, I thought this was due to the location: Washington made Gallup Poll’s 2008 “Top Ten List of the Nation’s Least Religious States.” The facility is also located within a not-for-profit hospital system. I have read that calling these spaces meditation rooms is also much more common on the West Coast. In the Midwest and the East Coast, they’re still called chapels.
Some hospitals don't call the rooms chapels because that label invokes the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hospitals have patients, visitors, and staff from a wide variety of faith backgrounds—including many Muslims who need a place to pray five times a day. Many chapels inside hospitals are now changing into spaces that are more welcoming to people of all faiths. Even hospitals associated with specific religious orders are more flexible, providing storage space for various liturgical items to be put away after use.
Instead of having traditional religious symbols, such as a cross and an altar, many meditation rooms have nature motifs. They have space for prayer rugs and windows facing east—but no pews or religious symbols. Traditional stained glass is avoided as it invokes a non-secular element. These are sanctuaries where families can pray for patients, and hospital staff can pause for spiritual refreshing.
Hospital officials say they are opening and expanding meditation rooms in response to a demand by visitors and staff, as well as their own growing awareness of the role spirituality plays in healing. The designs for these places of respite reflect the push for inclusiveness.
People of all faiths—and people of non-faith—need a place to quietly reflect, as many are trying to make decisions while confronted with the existential dilemmas that illness can bring.