Centuries ago, people knew that architecture affected health. But we seem to have neglected this in more recent history, as less precedence is given to health and psychology and more is given to finance and eco-friendly, groundbreaking design. I’m not saying that these are bad things to consider, but with an ageing population and increasing rates of mental health problems, perhaps it’s time to return to the interface between architecture, psychology and health.
Psychoneuroimmunology, is a young field of science focussed on the interactions between the mind, brain and immune system. Previously the field has been dominated by alternative therapies, but the potential is simply too important to be left to those fields. So now more and more scientists from Harvard to Turin are taking on the field.
In the UK there are over 400 hospitals, but few of those were actually designed with health in mind. Whilst obviously they were built for healing, the actually mechanisms of healing were not taken into account. For example, studies have shown that having a natural view from the hospital bed, significantly improves the patients rate of healing. Being able to engage with gardens and natural spaces, also has a huge effect upon health. Identifying and understanding these mechanisms is integral to understanding how to design architecture for health. We spend so much of our lives inside built environments, shouldn’t we make these as healthy as possible?
Revolutionary architect, Erich Mendelssohn built the Hadassah Medical Centre on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem – it looks more like a spa than a hospital (see image at top). Whilst he may not have known this, his design embraces many factors relating to psychoneuroimmunology: striking views, engaging with natural environments, symmetry, scale, community, integration etc. All these factors have been found to have a directly positive effect upon patient wellbeing both mentally and physically.
Even going back as far as Florence Nightingale, she knew the importance of sunlight and fresh air for recovery. But perhaps as technology has improved we have come to under-appreciate these subtle natural methods of improving health. But now is the time to unite the two and start building hospitals with health in mind. To improve patient and doctor life in as many simple ways as possible.
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‘Healing Spaces’ by Esther Sternberg (available on Amazon)
‘The Opiate of the Masses’ by Tamsin Nicholson (extract available by request at firstname.lastname@example.org)