To Your Health, Naturally

July 18, 2006
By Robert Nieminen

By Robert Nieminen

For anyone who spent any amount of time wandering the exhibit spaces and showrooms at the Merchandise Mart in June for the NeoCon World's Trade Fair, it would have been difficult to miss a theme that seemed to permeate the designs of products from floor to floor. In case you missed it, nature-inspired designs popped up everywhere from textiles to ceilings to carpet. I left the show with a sense that the industry has embraced a return to nature of sorts (and not just in the sustainable design sense, though that trend was stronger than ever) and taken its cues from the natural world.

Perhaps I was looking through "green-colored glasses," so to speak, because of my visit to Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix—this month's featured project—prior to the NeoCon show. Far from your typical institutional hospital setting, Banner Good Samaritan is an oasis in the desert (literally) where healing gardens, environmental graphics and prints, and plenty of views to the outdoors create a welcoming and healing environment for patients and their families (see page 40). A far cry from its previous, outdated design, the hospital can now claim it has a truly healing, and aesthetically pleasing environment for patients and staff.

I'm encouraged by this trend because I personally believe that we long to connect with the outdoors while living and working indoors. This is especially true when we find ourselves in the unfortunate position of being admitted to a hospital, where our levels of fear and anxiety are often elevated, and a welcoming, soothing environment can go a long way in helping us and our families cope with the illness or injury that brought us there.

Fortunately, the healthcare industry is undergoing a dramatic change in its approach to delivering medical care—where patients and their needs are becoming the central focus of a medical facility's design. Indeed, patient-centered design is spreading rapidly across the country thanks in large part to firms like Maregatti Interiors, the subject of this month's cover story (see page 32).

Tending to the mind, body and spirit is not just some touchy-feely, holistic approach to healthcare. The truth is that design therapy works, and it is being backed by concrete research that quantifies the benefits of healing environments. This is the approach that Maregatti Interiors has taken to accommodate the growing demand for hospitals that are designed around the patients' wants and needs. This trend is happening, Ana Maregatti says, for two reasons: "One is the increase in competition between healthcare facilities, and the other is the baby boomer generation wanting to make choices, including where they go for medical treatment. Healthcare facilities are using design almost as a recruiting and retaining tool."

This trend in healthcare was also reflected in the products that were offered at NeoCon. Products designed for healthcare applications looked like they could easily cross over into hospitality or residential projects. Yet a great deal of research went into the design of these products to ensure that they meet the demands of both patients and staff—and, one could argue, the aesthetic demands of designers as well, because the products not only perform well, they look good too.

And isn't that how we want all of our living, working and healing environments to be—not just functional, but beautiful too? As the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright so aptly put it, "Form follows function—that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union." Amen to that.

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