Biophilic Design in Hospitals—Pros & Cons

Aug 13, 2021

What Is Biophilic Design, and Why Does It Matter?

Biophilic design, in short, is a way in which architecture incorporates nature into its design to connect its occupants to nature. While the healthcare industry has made leaps and bounds in discovering innovations that enhance the quality of life for patients, it is of equal value to integrate more basic human needs – ones that are deeply embedded into our genetic code – into the design of healthcare facilities.

If asked to describe a typical healthcare setting, the words “sterile”, “hygienic” or “clean” come to mind. And while a hygienic environment greatly benefits in the successful healing of a patient and in keeping staff healthy and safe, other beneficial tactics such as biophilic design in hospitals can often be overlooked.

While it may seem like a new concept, Edward O. Wilson first popularized biophilia as a human need for continuously connecting to the natural world. Urbanization has taken tolls on the physical wellbeing of nearly everyone, and through biophilic design we can reverse some of the effects – every effort matters.


Biophilic Benefits

Incorporating window views of gardens, landscapes, waterscapes, and other biophilic views can greatly reduce the stress of patients, resulting in faster and more successful healing. With less connection to nature, it becomes increasingly more difficult to rest and repair. Even with 15 minutes of exposure to nature, you can see a drop in blood pressure, calmer heart rate, release of muscle tension, and a decrease in the production of stress hormones. 

Mental restoration and reduced fatigue also are improved through biophilic design, giving patients and healthcare staff a renewed sense of well-being. And, on top of this, they improve the air quality! They do this by using carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. They also transpire through their leaves, making the air more humid, which is excellent for combating the problem of dry-air, a widely reported problem in air-conditioned hospitals and medical facilities.

By now, you’re beginning to realize the major benefits to having nature integrated into a patient’s experience, however we also want to touch on some of the obstacles that need to be addressed before buying tons of plants.


Incorporating Biophilic Design with Intention

There are two main questions to take into consideration before clearing out the local greenhouse and placing plants everywhere:

  •  How will they be cared for? Placing plants in a patient's room doesn’t always work. Sometimes, for privacy reasons, it isn’t manageable to go in and out of the room tending to the plants. While a solution could be simply playing nature documentaries or slideshows on a patient’s TV in their room, you can make the common areas full of plants to make patients, staff and visitors alike feel the benefits. 

  •  What about the dust? Dusty plants are not ideal, especially in the healthcare world where things need to be able to be cleaned and/or sanitized. Respiratory issues are a major concern in medical environments, therefore it is worth noting that the leaves of the plants you choose to integrate need to be easy to clean. Yes, you can clean plants! Simply take a damp cloth and gently wipe the leaves down to remove dust and other airborne debris. 

By incorporating plants into your healthcare space – in whatever fashion feels best for you and your patients and staff – the effects will ripple throughout the space! Plants bring nature indoors, lessening the space between us and nature and grounding us. It is without a doubt that nature does help heal.