If you are immersed in the evidence-based design process, then you know that a connection to nature is at the core of how the design of the built environment impacts the reduction of stress/pain and replenishes the soul.

Landscape architecture is a profession that has created exterior places of wellbeing for centuries. Then why not use similar design principles from landscape architecture in the design of an interior? Have you tried? Where are the similarities in the core principles for designing a healing place outside versus inside? Is it truly about blurring the interior and exterior of a building’s experience or is there a secret formula we have yet to crack?

Let’s examine for a minute what would happen if we discarded all of our beliefs about how an interior should be designed and turned to what we know from a baseline of research about how to positively influence the human condition. What if from that baseline of knowledge we asked questions about how to create a safe, human-centered, efficient, effective, mobile, and restorative environment? Hypothesize, if you will, and explore a new set of design principles that inform a new design vocabulary.

At the baseline, we would know that if the environment is to be safe/sustainable, we would follow design codes, guidelines, and the nuances in the current research that support the service at hand in a manner that would do no harm. If we wanted people to be drawn to our facility, we would analyze our market surveys and deliver a brand that delivered beyond its customers’ expectations. If we wanted the interior to be efficient, effective, and ready for full mobility, we would study electronic devices and the design interventions that improved their occupants’ output. If we wanted to reduce stress and pain, and replenish the human condition, we would add strong references to nature in our interiors.

So let’s say we did all that in this past building boom, do you think we will continue to develop hospitals in the same way, or will design teams be given the freedom to innovate a unique interior sensibility for healthcare? In pondering this question, I am certain that this new sensibility for healthy/healing interiors is about to emerge.

Hopefully, this economic downturn is allowing the thought leaders in the industry to wrestle with this same restlessness and, in the end, we will all benefit, not just in the healthcare sector but in all design sectors. My dream is for a new type of building enclosure that supports and enlightens the human condition. These new environments are “Places of Wellbeing” where we are safe; are mentally, physically, and spiritually supported; are efficient, effective, and mobile; and feel healthy and replenished.

In the last decade, healthcare projects that paid attention to the research included at least one healing garden, and some offered several gardens as a way to blur the line between inside and out. A few years ago, the introduction of daylight deep into a large institutional facility seemed costly and frivolous. Today, we have the business case that proves differently and have given design teams the freedom to use daylight as a standard light source for interiors. We brought landscape architecture into the building.

On the Dublin Methodist Hospital project in Dublin, Ohio, we worked closely with MSI on how at the window line (for which we had miles) to blur the edge of the interior and exterior landscaping. To do that, we placed trees, plantings, and water features in those interim spaces and created 13 gardens outdoors as options for waiting and reflection. Let’s push that concept further now and ask the questions imbedded in the concept of biophilia and see what our product manufacturers can learn from the cellular structure of living things in order to develop new materials for interior use.

Let’s look at the various design principles of landscape architecture to see how the design genre can be informed differently than in the past. Imagine a style not reflective of a former French king named Louis, but rather reflective of a form of vegetation. Would we use this newly found design vocabulary as a way to harness that powerful bond between man and nature, not man and wealth? And in the end, who would be the richer for the knowledge shared?

It is in this realm that I am about to spend the next effort of my professional career. It is absolutely evidence-based interior design; it is all about health and wellbeing; and it is going to launch from a baseline of certainty with an enlightened client base that isn’t afraid of innovation—clients like Cheryl Herbert of Dublin Methodist’s Pebble Project who allowed her design team to “run until apprehended” and innovate a new sensibility about the built environment.

I look forward to spending more time with colleagues in all disciplines, including landscape architecture, to explore greener, healthier pastures (or the interior correlation thereof) that we will come to refer to as Places of Wellbeing. I welcome your thoughts on this exciting new direction. HCD

To learn more, please visit The Center for Health Design’s website at www.healthdesign.org.