As healthcare facilities continue to find design inspiration from the hospitality industry, healthcare planners and designers are taking a deeper, more accommodating view toward campus planning, designing landscaped sites that offer respite in redeeming, natural settings.

Historically, access to nature and fresh air was seen as essential to healthcare design and was often incorporated into municipal hospitals and institutions. But as healthcare campuses became more densely planned with high-rise buildings and parking structures, the connection to nature became compromised.

Yet the growing focus on the patient experience has seen a re-emergence of nature in healthcare architecture.

“Designers are creating landscapes to enhance a healthcare facility’s sense of retreat,” says HGA colleague Frank Nemeth, AIA, whose current work for St. Luke’s Community Medical Center-The Woodlands, outside Houston, Texas, features a 66-acre landscaped campus of interconnected buildings surrounded by lakes, ponds and gardens with a strategic sequence of pedestrian pathways and vehicular arrival zones. The Woodland’s new Master Plan calls for significant new building elements from M.D. Anderson, Lakeside Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital, forming a complement of healthcare providers on one integrated, park-like campus.

Perhaps tied into the emphasis on sustainable design, nature is seen as a healing agent—not just a “green-thumb” add-on. Studies indicate that patients simply feel more relaxed when they have access to nature and outdoor views.

“By focusing on campus planning and landscaping that incorporates regional plantings and building materials, we can create a unique sense of place as well as a calming, familiar environment,” Nemeth continues. “A hospital surrounded by nature offers a truly healing environment for patients while helping healthcare providers compete in today’s tougher marketplace with better-designed, patient-centered facilities."

Nemeth concludes, “A beautifully planned and orderly landscape conveys the message that the healthcare provider is dedicated to meeting patient and community needs with state-of-the-art medical technology, world-class specialists, and efficient care.”