The belief in light and color therapy as a method for healing is not new. Prior to the advent of drugs, doctors utilized the healing properties of the sun to improve health, both physically and psychologically.

Many cultures have recognized the potential healing powers of the light and the sun. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and other major cultures made significant medical uses of light. The Egyptians are said to have built temples where color healing took place. Sunlight shone through colored gems, such as rubies and sapphires, onto people seeking healing. Rooms were constructed for disseminating the color spectrum. The sick were “color diagnosed” and then put into rooms that radiated the particular color prescribed.

The Ancient Greeks were the first to document both the theory and practice of solar therapy. Heliopolis, the Greek city of the sun, was famous for its healing temples, in which sunlight was broken up into its spectral components (colors), and each component was used for a specific medical problem. Color, being a manifestation of light, held a therapeutic, as well as divine meaning for these historical cultures.

The Chinese also had specific attachments to color and the meaning of color. Color served to symbolically imitate the cosmic order on earth. From the second millennium BC, the Chinese used color to indicate cardinal directions, seasons, the cyclical passage of time, and the internal organs of the human body. Color is regarded as cosmic energy—ch'i—that can shape energy and destiny.
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, Phoenix. Architect: Perkins+Will.

Photo Mark Delsasso (www.visusltd.com)

St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, Phoenix. Architect: Perkins+Will.

Throughout India and Tibet historical Sanskrit writings dating back to 1800 BC, representing religious and scientific beliefs, have used the word chakra. Chakra is described as a system, a set of seven invisible energy centers that animates each person's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual body. Chakra means “wheel” in Sanskrit and, as a metaphor for the sun, denotes the eternal cycle of time, representing celestial order and balance.

Practices in color therapy, or chromotherapy, in the last 130 years were notably advanced through the research and writings of Edwin Babbitt, a color therapist and the author of Principles of Light and Color. Babbitt rose to eminence in the romantic and credulous times of the Victorian era; his fame diminished in the pragmatic and disillusioning years of the 20th century. His theories, however, have been resurrected, are receiving wide acceptance and have been expanded by Theo Gimbel and Joseph Liberman. Various medical advances support light and color healing: blue light as a cure for neonatal jaundice, photodynamic therapies (PDT) used to treat or relieve various types of cancer, and light therapy utilizing full-spectrum lighting for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Recent light and color healing modalities are wide-ranging. Laser puncture (a technique of acupuncture using light beams in lieu of needles), Syntonic Optometry (a system of creating balance of the autonomic system), Monocrom Light Domes (a device used to rebalance the body's energy, treating depression, SAD, and other stress-related ailments), and the incorporation of various light-emitting diodes (LED) in systems used to eradicate scars from diabetic wounds, stimulate living tissue and support relaxation systems to penetrate the mind and body.

Although architects and interior designers have begun to utilize the concept of color and light as elements that can provide positive contributions to healing, few healthcare facilities embrace these new healing modalities. Rather, the hospitality and spa industries are at the forefront in investigating use of various color and lights in the design of hotel rooms, spa treatment rooms, and even in the new LED spa-focused treatments.

Healthcare and healing treatments may be the single most important service consumers buy because, unlike any other type of purchase, basic quality of life is at stake. In this time of construction boom, when healthcare institutions are being challenged by government and users to become safer and more efficient and effective, what better time to provide solutions allowing innovative design to play a large meaningful role in the success of healing in the future?
Shanghai United Family Hospital, Shanghai, People's Republic of China. Architect: Perkins+Will

Photo by Tim Griffith Photography

Shanghai United Family Hospital, Shanghai, People's Republic of China. Architect: Perkins+Will

Shanghai United Family Hospital, Shanghai, People's Republic of China. Architect: Perkins+Will

Photo by Tim Griffith Photography

Shanghai United Family Hospital, Shanghai, People's Republic of China. Architect: Perkins+Will

Research supports the concept that there is a basis for the connection between color, light and healing. Many of these “new” healing concepts actually date back to ancient times. Our beliefs in the healing properties of light have come full circle, and we again recognize the importance of light and color to healing. HD

Tama Duffy Day, FASID, IIDA, LEED AP, is a Principal at Perkins+Will and leads their Mid-Atlantic Healthcare Practice in Washington, DC. She is also the National Interior Design Healthcare Practice Leader, formulating research and design initiatives throughout the firm's 19 offices.

For further information, phone 202.624.8366 or e-mail tama.duffyday@perkinswill.com. To comment on this article, visit http://www.healthcaredesignmagazine.com.

Suggested Readings

  1. Information for this article was developed from the following readings:
  2. Catalfo P. Chakras 101: Looking for a different perspective on your health and well being ? Natural Health 2006(Feb):35 (2): 60-67.
  3. Gimbel T. Healing with Color and Light: Improve your Mental, Physical and Spiritual Health. New York:Fireside (Simon & Shuster Inc.), 1994.
  4. Liberman J. Light-Medicine of the Future: How we can Use it to Heal Ourselves Now. Santa Fe NM:Bear & Company, Inc., 1991.
  5. Wellman T. Heliotherapy: Let the Sunshine In ! Total Health 2003 (Jun/Jul); 25 (3): 40-41.