The outlook for healthcare interior design
An interior designer synonymous with the field of healthcare design is Tama Duffy Day, FASID, IIDA, LEED AP. A winner of multiple awards who is deeply involved in academia and professional association leadership, she is the only designer to have received three Health Environment Awards from The Center for Health Design. Now a Principal at Perkins+Will, she has created educational programs for New York University and the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington, D.C. She offers a current perspective on healthcare interior design in this online exclusive interview with HEALTHCARE DESIGN Editor-in-Chief Richard L. Peck.
Peck: For starters, would you give a “one-line” review of today’s state of the art?
Day: It is at an amazing point today—healthcare facilities have come so far, and with great opportunities for the future.
Peck: In a recent article for our magazine (“The healing use of light and color,” February 2008, p. 10), you noted that some of the evidence for the healing powers of color and light comes from antiquity, particularly the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese. Do you think other forms of environmental evidence might be unearthed in this way?
Day: That was based on a master’s thesis I completed last year. It was interesting to think that a lot of where we’re headed was already thought of in the past—or, maybe another way of looking at it is that we are now ready to look at old evidence in a new light.
Peck: Do you feel that evidence-based design, though, is somewhat anomalous in a field so reliant upon visual perception and experience?
Day: At first a literature review can be daunting—it’s a lot of reading! But I think we can create visual concepts and components from the data. Yes, academic journals are literally black-and-white, devoid of color, but I personally find it easy to draw 3-D visualizations, in color, after reading published data. I think that’s the challenge of evidence-based design for design professionals.
Peck: You’ve mentioned that healthcare design might draw ideas and concepts from other areas of design, such as hospitality and retail. Would you elaborate on that?
Day: Yes, hospitality, retail, and even some commercial design can lead us in different directions. Hospitality has influenced healthcare interior design dramatically—so much so that hotels are now seeking out new ideas so they don’t look like hospitals! I think also we can look to ways of accommodating alternative approaches to healthcare, such as one might find in the spa environment.
Peck: One thing I’ve wondered is why the excitement and creativity of design for children’s hospitals isn’t carried over, typically, to more general hospitals accommodating adults. Your thoughts?
Day: I think that’s an intriguing question and, in working on about 20 projects for the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., I’ve wondered the same thing myself. The best answer I have today is that, when you see a sick child or infant, you want nothing more than to support them and offer them hope—almost as though whispering “hang on.” Interestingly, when you look at the other end of life, it seems the opposite—we turn away, almost as if to say “let go.” I think that’s changing, that we will be creating more hopeful places for people as they age.
Peck: Do you think there might be a fear of offending some adults with more creative concepts?
Day: In our preliminary study of adolescent behavior in an adolescent behavioral healthcare facility we’re finding that adolescents are definitely not inspired by spaces created for children; they are more interested in the “adult” side. Yet, how many adults enjoy the stimulation of Disney World and Disneyland? I think this will be taken into account as baby boomers move through various levels of facility care.
Peck: Isn’t there already a trend underway to create healing environments for geriatric acute and ambulatory care?
Day: Absolutely! A sign of things to come, maybe, is how hearing assistance devices are becoming viewed as jewelry and are designed as such. And look at what’s happened with eyeglasses—for years they’ve been established as a fashion statement, not a statement that “I’m old.”
Peck: Have you seen any recent advances in the design of furniture and furnishings for healthcare?
Day: Healthcare furniture is becoming much more comfortable and supportive, while not screaming “healthcare.” The arm height on a chair might be a bit higher and designed to offer added support to an elderly person, and yet the chair doesn’t look like institutional facility furniture. Design has improved tremendously in this way. I also find that, where there’s a demand, there tend to be products to meet that demand. For example, with the growth in the bariatric population, furniture is being engineered accordingly. HEALTHCARE DESIGN recently reported that about one-third of patients weighs 350 pounds or more. The scale of furniture and reinforcement now accommodate these patient needs, while ergonomic equipment is helping to prevent nurse back injuries. Another example is the manufacture of fabrics. Fabric manufacturers have come a long way in providing products that are cleanable, breathable, antimicrobial and offering creative options. Look at something as simple as a cubicle curtain. Back in the 1980s they used to look like men’s boxer shorts, but now they can be beautiful works of art, with healing colors and imagery from nature. The options in fiber content and materiality are much broader.
Peck: What is the status of teamwork in this field between architects and interior designers?
Day: I feel blessed to work with an amazing group of people in a firm that searches for ways to overcome boundaries, choosing to look at a variety of viewpoints from early on in the process. An open-minded approach of this type you will likely see reflected in the project from day one. Vision-oriented clients help inspire that type of thinking and integration from the start. The need is there: Sometimes you’ll find wayfinding or art experts brought into the project at the construction document phase, when everything would be more integrated if this happened earlier.
Peck: Do you find that BIM (building information modeling) is helping to encourage teamwork?
Day: Very much so. We’re embracing it, as are our architectural colleagues. This technology enables us to shape and form the space in every way—texture, size, scale, access to light and views, and more—from the start of the project.