If you close your eyes and think of an interior where you felt relaxed and at peace, what comes to mind?
Jean Hansen, FIIDA, CID, AAHID, EDAC, LEED AP BD+C, sustainable interiors manager, senior professional associate, HDR Architecture, Inc.; Michelle Halle Stern, AIA, PE, MSPH, LEED Fellow, director, sustainable design services, HDR; and I pondered “healthy interiors” on a January 2012 conference call.
We talked about view; daylight; open space; quiet, pleasant colors; artwork; a calming culture; and a positive energy. We talked about a lack of the “hospital smell,” which we discussed could include food warming, soiled linen, cleaning chemicals, and exhaust. We discussed the patient experience, perception, and the visceral reaction one may have to noise, bright light, or odor.
We can’t always see, smell, or hear the presence of chemicals in building materials, furniture, and finishes. One may associate chemicals with cleaning solutions, disinfectants, mercury, and laboratory chemicals, but carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and asthmagens are frequently found in furniture, casework, fabrics, beds, and medical equipment.
Hospitals are increasingly looking to architects and designers for their expertise in creating healthier interiors free of known chemical hazards. Tools, resources, and experts like the featured “interior intelligence” can guide healthcare leaders towards safer choices in furniture, casework, fabrics, and finishes, so that material choices are in line with the goal of creating a healthy space for workers, patients, and visitors.
Hansen was inspired by sustainability when she heard a talk about green cleaning more than 15 years ago. As a designer and a healthcare planner, she looks through the lens of health to think about design, materials specification, and product and material evaluation.
“Sustainability and health are interconnected,” she says. Halle Stern worked in sustainability before she got her start in healthcare. But with healthcare, it all tied together. The two now work together at HDR, researching and specifying safer materials, and have seen a dramatic increase in requests.
“HDR’s expertise is currently being applied through our work with the U.S. Army for the new William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss. Safer materials and healthier interiors synergize with the military’s new gold standard for medical facilities, world-class design, the use of evidence-based design (EBD), and the USGBC’s LEED for Healthcare.
World class, EBD, and LEED for Healthcare all include strategies and/or objectives to avoid harmful chemicals in building materials and furniture, promote good air quality and create environments that foster healing and healthy work settings,” Hansen says.
Carol Derby’s interest in sustainability took hold in 1994, when Designtex partnered with McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry and the Swiss mill Rohner to develop the world’s first cradle-to-cradle compostable textile. That steep learning curve and successful result introduced new and exciting criteria into the textile development process.
Previously focused on research into innovative materials and technologies for Designtex, Carol found this new challenge of perpetually cycling materials was a new pathway to innovation with a cause—that cause being human and environmental health.
A word on textiles
Today, Derby is director of environmental strategy for Designtex and shares her views on healthier textiles. “There was a time when healthcare textiles were first and foremost about performance, and they were often finished with chemicals that allowed them to shed stains, to deter the growth of microbes, and to resist flames.