Seven Hints for Healthcare Campus

Posted on July 28, 2010


A hospital campus’s outdoor spaces take a back seat to bona fide treatment areas inside; however, the outside should not be discounted as a productive part of the hospital environment, especially in picturesque and less urban areas.

A hospital’s exterior can complement building interiors, provide overflow capacity, allow for relaxation and mental breaks, and enhance the welcoming aspect of a facility.

Incremental improvement is perfect for the outdoor environment—no need to do a complete facelift. As projects come along, allocate a little money for betterments. Here are seven tips to consider as you take on the great outdoors:

1) Design Integration. Integration between all designers is important to create a comprehensive solution that looks, functions and feels right. All must be involved in the process, meetings with the team and owner, and an architect, interior designer and landscape architect are the core. A campus master plan makes it easier to keep everything cohesive.

2) Security. The level of security and how that gets built into your outdoor spaces depends on the type of facility and patients you serve. Think about paths of travel. Psych facilities require specific considerations to confine and eliminate danger to patients. Each owner will need to analyze their facility and adjust its comfort level with foliage, elevation changes, public art, water features, seating and boundary definition.

3) Flexibility. Exterior spaces must engage people and invite them to occupy. This does not require gimmicks, but understanding how people use the outdoors now (lunch, exercise, smoke break) and how you want them to use it in the future. Keep in mind how the seasons affect use, and design for four-season blooms and color if possible to keep interest and maintain year-round interaction. Attempt to ensure uses in less favorable weather, by different groups and in different ways.

4) Technology. Even outside, your employees may want to be connected wirelessly to your network to allow additional productivity and a varied work environment. It may seem like a reach now, but the expectation of wireless connectivity will likely extend to the entire hospital zone, which includes outdoor benches, parking lots and adjacent hard and softscapes.

5) Quality. Build to last and build for growth. Remember: greenery gets taller, wider and fuller and anything outside will be abused by people and the weather. Sturdy specimens that can resist rough wear (and lawn mowers) and extended periods of rain or drought can do wonders for maintainability. Avoid cutting corners with substrates under hardscapes, durable metal finishes, and provisions for freeze / thaw cycle. Consider attractive, sturdy, functional alternatives to generic bollards.

6) Public / Private Space. Your campus may serve as a public park of sorts for visitors and your neighbors. Some facilities choose to engage with their communities in ways other than illness treatment; they want to be public gathering places for education, information and community building. Consider your clinic’s role and how any implicit duties may affect its exterior spaces.

7) Sustainability. Smart use of resources is essential in the design of outdoor spaces, and not every product necessarily needs to be green. However many hard surfaces, including concrete, can be pervious and help stem the storm water run-off retention pond issue. Alternatives like wild grasses and sedums provide ground cover to reduce domestic grass, a common resource drain. Xeriscaping, or designing with low water-use plants, dovetails well with native vegetation to reduce water use and maintenance around grounds. Nature trails offer low-cost opportunities for fitness, education and aesthetic benefit for visitors and employees. Solar powered lights and water features that utilize recaptured rainwater are also good alternatives.

By considering the items above, healthcare facilities large and small can better integrate the outdoors with the indoors to reinforce the healing mission.