The Tech Herald

Nature's healing properties to be incorporated by architectural firm into hospital design

by Rich Bowden - Nov 11 2008, 01:21

Hospital Ward. Image: TahitianLime/Flickr.

A Californian-based architectural company has linked up with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to examine ways in which natural surroundings and healthy outdoors lighting can be incorporated into the design of hospitals.

The use of nature to maximise healing potential is not a new concept. In fact the Ancient Greeks used gardens in their own attempts to cure the sick. A patient's access to natural surroundings has been shown to be highly beneficial for recovery and views of nature have also shown to have a positive effect on hospital staff's performance. However it is still unknown why we react in such a way to nature and the findings will direct architects in how better to design hospitals and caring facilities to assist patients in their recovery.

In a bid to discover more about this phenomenon, Calif.-based HMC Architects has teamed up with neuroscientists from UCSD and will use the information to improve the design of caring facilities.

“Neuroscience provides a means for us to measure how the brain, body and building interact,” said Dr. Eve Edelstein, a neurologist from UCSD who serves as HMC’s senior vice president of research and design. “Neuroscience gives us the tools to understand how the engagement of our senses in architectural space influences our emotions, behavior and health itself.”

UCSD researchers will use a virtual reality "Star Cave" to map the brain's responses to simulated architectural environments. The cave resembles a miniature Imax theatre, according to a HMC news release, and was developed by UCSD’s Division of Biological Sciences, the UCSD Division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, and the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience at UCSD.

The StarCave can also be used to test the brain’s processes or stress levels as people try to navigate their way through simulated buildings using different architectural cues. “With this technology,” Dr. Edelstein said, “we can identify the architectural cues that best serve people with different wayfinding strategies.”

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