Remember the last time you navigated through a hospital for a test? Did your blood pressure rise as you tried to figure out which line to get in, which elevator to take? Have you felt anxious in a waiting room? The link between a connection to nature and improved healing has been considered for centuries but has been substantiated in contemporary culture only since the mid-1980s. Surgical patients with a view to nature rather than a brick wall require less pain medication and recovery time. Nature-focused art and photography offer similar support.
For healthcare facilities to evolve into a synthesized ecosystem of wellness, we need to turn our attention to the interstitial spaces to support the well-being of patients, families, and medical teams.
To create a landscape masterplan, Brigham and Women’s Hospital assembled an interdisciplinary team of landscape architects, wayfinding specialists, and architects, but a eureka moment came later, when Rosalyn Cama joined the group. The president and founding partner of CAMA Inc, a Connecticut-based design lab and studio, suggested a fresh way to package the landscape masterplan that the group developed. The team viewed every square foot of the campus as an opportunity, regardless of how small the spaces were; the idea was that the aggregation of moments would create impact for visitors to the hospital. She aptly observed that the team was focusing on the “times between” — between parking the car and reaching the doctor’s office, between having a medical test and waiting for the results, between watching loved ones be wheeled into surgery and seeing them in the recovery room.
Hospital settings have their share of “times between.” The interstitial spaces where they occur are as important as the spaces specifically designed for direct patient care; if healthcare facilities accept this as a basic tenet, they can make the transition from being a series of isolated places to an integrated healing network. CAMA Inc worked with Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven on a curated show of revolving nature images, shown on various media in hallways and waiting areas. One woman was so comforted by having a painting of a salt marsh to look at that she tracked down the artist so she could share how getting lost in the beauty of the image decreased her anxiety over her husband’s surgery.
At the Brigham, the largest place for a “time between” experience is its cafeteria. Like a dystopian aboveground submarine, its few windows were too high and too small. The menu was not particularly supportive of good health, featuring fried foods and limited choices. The surroundings were grim; it was not a place to feel nourished in any sense of the word.
Options from all points of view — landscape, architecture, engineering, interiors, and wayfinding — were pulled together. To access views to gardens, the team constructed new grounds and worked out a plan that maximized the connection for cafeteria patrons. The garden was split into two parts, with the cafeteria expansion piece pushed between the two green spaces, resulting in two sides of each garden having a glazed connection to the interior space. Low two-top tables now line the edges for close-up views of the small-scale quilt of ground covers in the verdant shade gardens; further away, high-top banquette seating allows for views to the taller, ever-changing seasonal displays of woody plants.
Open only last year, the project continues to receive praise from the Brigham community and people associated with neighboring hospitals who also frequent the space. Going to the cafeteria is now the new healthy way to spend “time between.”