Killing the "Visual Noise"
As mentioned in blogs by my colleagues Associate Editor Shandi Matambanadzo and Healthcare Building Ideas Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Kovacs Silvis, last week we were given a tour of two Cleveland Clinic facilities designed by Westlake Reed Leskosky--Twinsburg Family Health and Surgery Center in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Hillcrest Hospital's major campus expansion in Mayfield Heights. What struck me the most, as it did my two colleagues, was a comment by Westlake Reed Leskosky's Ronald A. Reed, FAIA, within a few minutes of our entry into the Twinsburg facility.
Reed mentioned that the two buildings--and indeed all of the new wave of Cleveland Clinic buildings going up in the area--are designed to minimize, if not explicitly eliminate the "visual noise" that one typically encounters in a modern healthcare facility. The fairly sparse, pale environments fly in the face of the typical notion of the healing environment, prone to positive distractions (which are, at the end of the day, still distractions, after all). Reed explained that the concept for the minimal design was that of a quiet reflecting pool, designed to encourage contemplative thoughts via access to outdoor views (and it should be noted that the Twinsburg facility especially sports some spectacular views to nature, embedded in the heart of protected wetlands), simple wayfinding motifs intuitively designed around views and orientation to the outdoors, and an eye-catching modern art program. Furniture is of uniform design (including real leather seats at Twinsburg), in simple solid colors, as are the walls and floors.
While the idea that less equals more may seem to reject many of the established design notions of the evidence-based healthcare design age, I would argue that in fact it is simply a different way of tacking the same issue, and is no less effective for it. Those that attack the recent wave of Cleveland Clinic buildings as being too much like art museums are missing the point; I don't know anyone who isn't more comfortable in an art museum than they are in a healthcare facility. I know when I enter a facility as a patient, the thing that stresses me out more than anything else--including whatever procedure I might be there for--is not being able to find where I'm going. Eliminating the "visual noise" and designing with a simple, back-to-nature approach certainly helps combine that. My hats off to the Cleveland Clinic leadership and the team at Westlake Reed Leskosky for finding a better way to build this particular mousetrap.