1652341207151 Photograph25201 1

Function and Aesthetics

Nov. 28, 2017

A study of the use of light and contrast in Lausanne

When looking at light and contrast, often the discussion is about the functionality and how it can be utilized to support safety within healthcare environments. Frequently included in technical discussions and code language is light reflectance value (LRV), number of foot candles, and value contrast between vertical and horizontal surfaces. However, what if we were to look at light and contrast as a means of design that achieves the functional needs while also creating a different type of aesthetic?  

Light and Contrast

While traveling in Switzerland after attending and speaking at the Global Ageing Conference in Montreux, there were several examples of space and details that utilize light and contrast successfully that create an interesting design aesthetic while maintaining functional needs.

At the Hotel Swiss Wine by Fassbind (byfassbind.com), the use of digital graphics on vinyl wallcovering, coupled with painted and wood surfaces, accented the distribution of space within the room, offering height and material changes that create different experiences. The available zones are similar to those used in acute care, outpatient exam rooms, and resident rooms in long-term care. The location of seating to take advantage of the daylight and views, the work desk area with task lighting, the different heights and colors of the ceiling that assist to define space, and the indirect lighting behind the desk and above the bed are all details that could be relevant within a healthcare space. 

Guest room at Hotel Swiss Wine by Fassbind, Lausanne, Switzerland. Courtesy of Hotel Swiss Wine by Fassbind.

The ceiling was used as a palette for successfully creating contrast that represents clouds, sun, and daylight while tying the imagery down to the floor with a scene that is representative of the cultural vineyards located in the surrounding landscape. 

Ceiling and Walls in a guest room in the Hotel Swiss Wine. Courtesy of JSR Associates, Inc.

Contrast, Function, and Details

Providing easily discernable edges of objects within a space assists with clarification of function. Although mundane, but necessary, let’s consider waste receptacles. In many cases, small trash cans with lids and a foot “pedal” are used in various types of hospitality and healthcare spaces. For guests, patients, and residents these are awkward, often difficult to hit the small pedal, and result in users bending precariously to then touch the lid edge to open the trashcan. This situation may become dangerous—a potential fall or slip risk and touching the lid that could be contaminated (not meant to be touched unless wearing gloves).

There are other ways to achieve a safer and easier-to-use solution that is visually appealing, such as using contrast to see openings. A black countertop and side panel with a yellow receptacle and silver details provide an excellent example of contrast used to benefit the end user.

Guest bathroom in Hotel Swiss Wine by Fassbind, Lausanne, Switzerland. Color contrast is use to show the opening of the trash receptable. Photo credit: JSR Associates, Inc.

Details are important; using contrast between walls and floors allow patients and residents to clearly define space. In combination with being well lit, contrast can successfully be used to enhance a person’s use of a space. Lighting levels that can be perceived as a step, hole, or even water is important when designing healthcare spaces.

Entry to guest room in Hotel Swiss Wine. | Courtesy of JSR Associates, Inc.

Another example includes using contrast between bathing fixtures and the surrounding walls of the enclosure allowing the user to discern between the vertical tiled walls and the grab bars, towel bars, shelves for toiletries, and all of the edges that are being navigated when using a shower or other type of bathing fixture.

Shower tile detail: end and side wall of shower in guest bathroom in Hotel Swiss Wine.
Courtesy of JSR Associates, Inc.
Details for easy maintenance and cleaning are needed in healthcare settings. A mirror detail featured in the Hotel Swiss Wine was intriguing as it fits snuggly within the tile for essentially a flush vertical surface. For meeting ADA requirements, the mirror could extend down to the next grout line. The mounting of a magnifying mirror on the metal channel provides a way to easily add accessories using the metal channel around the mirror as a track system. This could have all types of applications within long-term care, particularly allowing for personalized storage that is adjustable and movable to accommodate specific resident needs.

Tile and mirror detail at sink countertop next to light fixture in guest bathroom in Hotel Swiss Wine.
Courtesy of JSR Associates, Inc.


Health & Wellness: Light, Daylight, and Views

The advent of utilizing Fitwel (fitwel.org) and the WELL Building Standard (wellcertified.com) for promoting health and wellness within all built environmental settings is a growing trend. Part of wellness promotion focuses on the evaluation of the type of artificial light used, access to daylight that promotes the re-setting of an individual’s circadian rhythm, and reviewing the quality of views that can be achieved from a space. The Facility Guidelines Institute’s (fgiguidelines.org) healthcare Guidelines includes the Environment of Care (EOC) section that references the qualitative features of the physical setting (demonstrating value of the quality versus only quantity of characteristics), all impacting the outcomes of users within healthcare environments.  “Light” and “Views of and Access to Nature” are two required areas of the EOC that are included in the Guidelines for all healthcare settings. Application examples are provided for reference within the appendix to assist the design professional in achieving goals of quality lighting and views of and access to nature. Further examples are provided within Fitwell and the WELL Building Standard for approaches to provide access to quality light, daylight, and views. Although all views may not be as majestic and inspiring as the Cathedral of Lausanne, consideration of opportunities to design to maximize views is important for all healthcare settings.

Breakfast view from the Hotel Swiss Wine. | Courtesy of JSR Associates, Inc.

There is debate and discussion on the use of contrast in healthcare settings. This often  comes up in my educational sessions as it is a misunderstanding that any use of contrast is a bad design feature, particularly when a care population includes older adults. Using contrast in conjunction with effective light design can be a positive tool that meets functional needs and creative aesthetic solutions when used appropriately. The goal is to use contrast between vertical and horizontal surfaces as an accent that cues use or clarifies function and helps clearly identify transitions. When appropriate contrast is used with lighting, daylighting, and views, there is an opportunity for each characteristic to reinforce the other, thinking of the design considerations as a system of integral parts.


Jane Rohde, , AIA, FIIDA, ASID, ACHA, CHID, LEED AP BD+C & GGA – EB, is the founding principal of JSR Associates, Inc., located in Catonsville, Md.  JSR Associates, Inc. celebrated 21 years of consulting services in 2017. She champions a global cultural shift toward de-institutionalizing senior living and healthcare facilities through person-centered principles, research and advocacy, and design of the built environment. Clientele includes non-profit and for-profit developers, government agencies, senior living and healthcare providers, and design firms. Rohde is the recipient of the 2015 Environments for Aging Changemaker Award and speaks internationally on senior living, aging, healthcare, evidence-based design, and sustainability. For more information or comments, email her at [email protected] or use the “Chat with Jane” feature at jsrassociates.net.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!