Hospital dining should be a place of respite for patients, visitors, and employees alike, but at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the 13,500-square-foot cafeteria was serving up a dated environment.

“The cafeteria layout posed throughput issues and constraints with what we could menu,” says Susan Langill, director of food services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “The ceilings were low and the windows small, further contributing to the feeling of being crowded and a bit dreary.”

As part of a master plan to improve the patient experience, a multidisciplinary design team, including Bruner/Cott & Associates (Cambridge, Mass.) and Cama Inc. (New Haven, Conn.), is working with the hospital to renovate the cafeteria to better incorporate evidence-based design concepts, including access to nature and daylight, and deliver healthier food choices.

“Nutrition and environment play key roles in overall well-being,” Langill says. “With varied seating options, more natural light, and views of the added garden, the dining room will be a welcome area for folks to unwind.” The project is expected to be completed in September 2016.

The 1970s hospital designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg presented several challenges during the redesign, including a cast-in-place concrete exterior with 4-foot-square windows.

Bob Simmons, principal at Bruner/Cott, says one of the first steps was to remove the concrete skin outside the second-story cafeteria and install full-height glass walls with a fritted abstract grass pattern that’s opaque on the bottom and becomes more translucent at the top. New large planting beds cantilever off the side of the building to further improve the view and bring a stronger presence of nature to the campus.

“We wanted to screen the view a little bit but still allow the light to come in and to have that feeling of nature,” Simmons says.

Inside, the team had to address issues with circulation, including two separate dining areas that were connected by a windowless hallway, and find room for expanded seating and new menu options, including an infused water station and yogurt and juice bar.

A 2,000-square-foot addition was placed between the two existing dining areas to create one continuous 292-seat dining area with seating options including high and low banquettes.

Providing more space for customers, however, limited the footprint for food prep, catering, and staging, so the catering kitchen and staging area were moved to another floor and several food stations, such as an expanded salad bar, were relocated outside the servery area, adding nearly 8 feet of space to update a hearth and demonstration kitchen and allow more room for customers to line up to get their meals.

To freshen up the aesthetic of the cafeteria, designers used exposed ceilings and added quartzite counters, decorative green glass, and large-format sculptured wall tile. Simmons says the original design included polished concrete flooring, but that plan was changed when construction workers found the original terrazzo floor under layers of carpet and rubber flooring, which they decided to restore and reuse.

The final touch is updating the cafeteria name to Garden Café to reflect the changes to both the space and the menu.

Rosalyn Cama, president of Cama Inc., says the updated dining environment is key to improving the patient and family experience at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and reflects the importance of amenities in today’s competitive healthcare market.

“Applying good evidence-based design principles allows a mundane cafeteria to be transformed into a healing environment,” she says.

Anne DiNardo is senior editor of Environments for Aging. She can be reached at