HEALTHCARE DESIGN.09 educational session: Biophilic Healthcare Design

Presenter: Roger Ulrich, PhD, Beale Professorship in Health Facilities Design, Professor of Architecture, Texas A&M University

In Roger Ulrich’s presentation on biophilic healthcare design, he made a case for inherent human reaction to the presence of nature, and how this understanding can help better the clinical environment. He began by noting that the term was coined by Edward O. Wilson in 1982 and believe that humans have a strong proneness to respond positively to nature, including plants, animals, and other living things. This responsiveness, Ulrich argues, has a partly genetic basis.

The implication behind a human’s genetic response to nature is that certain natural settings had survival importance during evolution—for example, the presence of water for early humans was a comforting, stress-relieving setting because of its necessity and the other difficulties of life. Over 50 clinical studies support this thesis and go to show that viewing nature quickly lowers physiological and psychological stress, produces clinically important pain alleviation, as well as reduces aggression and improves satisfaction.

But how does this translate to a reduction in pain? Ulrich believes that because of stress reduction (genetic; addressed above) and cognitive distraction, views of nature can help reduce pain. The distraction theory argues that pain requires and absorbs conscious attention. Therefore, if a patient becomes engrossed in distraction there’s less power to devote to pain. The implication here is that the more engrossing the distraction is, the less pain is felt.

All of these theories have very distinct effects on evidence-based design. Biophilia tells that building orientation is important and should be a serious concern when siting a facility. It also implies that there should be ample views of sunny nature, outdoor gardens, and visual art depicting nature.