In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

James Heroux is a landscape architect with Copley Wolff Design Group (Boston). Here, he shares his thoughts on how landscape design can positively impact cancer patients, their families, and care teams by helping reduce stress and providing places to recharge and reflect.

1. First connection

Healthcare environments are historically confusing and, when combined with the pressures of a disease such as cancer, can add to the stress of a patient, family member, and treatment staff. To avoid adding anxiety, the entrance to a care facility should consciously establish a rational rhythm of connections and provide an intuitive path of travel to and from the building. In addition, comforting design elements, such as a canopy of trees to provide a ceiling overhead and reduce the scale of tall buildings or a human-scaled stone wall to guide a visitor while providing a place to rest, should be considered and can ease the mind of a patient and their family.

2. Natural looking

Blending new and existing natural systems into the landscape design and maintaining existing materials, such as plants, topographic land formations, rock outcroppings, and waterways, are paramount. Water retention systems designed naturally into the site look less engineered and provide habitat for wildlife. Additionally, the topographic context offers continuity with the landscape beyond the site. The patient should feel like they are entering a world that looks no different than what they’re used to and the landscape design should look for ways of mending the natural systems to minimize the visual intrusions of exposed engineered systems.

3. Create the right composition

A landscape composed of unfamiliar or irrational design elements, such as chaotic shapes, non-complementary colors, gratuitous design forms, irrational spatial compositions, and inappropriate building materials, can contribute to the chaos of a site and heighten the stress of a patient. The purpose of a wall, fountain, pergola, tree canopy, or living screen should be to form space at a human scale that’s comfortable for everyone. Too often, the landscape on a hospital campus is leftover space with imposing building walls, misplaced mechanical equipment, or a parking area. The role of the landscape is to overcome these challenges and create a setting that the patient feels has been designed for them.

4. Sanctuary for the mind

Cancer affects an entire family and their ability to provide support is often dependent on the opportunity to step away for a moment, meditate, or reflect. Walking paths at a healthcare facility are important for the patient’s support team and treatment staff because they offer a place to get some fresh air, exercise, or place their world in a larger context. In addition to pathways, the site can also include a pocket park or a visual connection to the landscape from a treatment room.

5. Compatible materials

Whether a patient is sitting in an infusion room overlooking a courtyard or a family member is visiting a solarium, the connection between inside and outside should be as seamless as possible using compatible materials. This includes pavements, lighting, furniture, finishes, and colors. For example, furniture or seat walls should consist of materials that offer year-round comfort and calming complementary colors should carry from the landscape to the building. Glass can provide opportunities for artistic statements and architectural continuity and lighting can be used to highlight design elements.

James Heroux

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