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Natural Healing: An Exemplary Healthcare Environment Hits the Road

Anshen + Allen
November 2008

By David Sokol

It is largely agreed upon that environmentally responsible design positively affects the human condition. Employees of green offices increase their productivity, students in green schools perform better, patients in green hospitals mend faster.

Anshen + Allen’s exhibition “Greening the Patient Experience”
Photo © Desroches Photography
Anshen + Allen’s exhibition “Greening the Patient Experience” offers an object lesson for making healthcare design more sustainable.
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Accepted fact doesn’t mean that facilities managers and building owners know exactly how to realize sustainability. Every building must be tailored to site and climate, culture and context, to be sure, and the LEED checklist provides an excellent, yet abstract, set of guidelines to follow. The exhibition “Greening the Patient Experience” offers an object lesson for making healthcare design more sustainable.

This concept room is designed by the San Francisco–based firm Anshen + Allen, one of the biggest architecture firms operating in the healthcare category. “Most [of our] research is done in such small capsules that it’s hard it’s nice to see how it all works together,” says Anshen + Allen project coordinator Mike Stack, LEED AP. “Greening the Patient Experience” accumulates that knowledge into a holistically designed, tangible space.

The room—a bundle of ideas on display, not products for sale—was launched for last year’s Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo, and has made stops at similar shows around the country since then. It started as an interior-design exercise, Stack says, with all of the products meeting several green criteria. The Opus casework by Steelcase, for example, is produced under eco-friendly conditions, and its modular construction spells easy disassembly and reconfiguration with minimal material waste. As the project evolved, though, Anshen + Allen increased its scope, prescribing abundant daylight to lessen energy requirements and to jog patients’ circadian rhythms, championing natural ventilation through operable windows and terraces, and lessening heating and cooling loads with a variable air volume system. Other concepts, such as a well-stocked work area for nurses and a livable family room, are meant to reduce patients’ stress and to enhance care—demonstrating, too, that meeting a patient’s needs as well as planetary priorities are not always a one-and-the-same job. 

Stack admits that “Greening the Patient Experience” isn’t revolutionary. “It’s a lot of information that people know, but are sometimes afraid to take steps to do.” Indeed, while many aspects of the installation have gotten high marks from onlookers, visitors to the exhibit are still “dead set against things like natural and low-wall ventilation.”

“Greening the Patient Experience” will be erected at another trade show in March, after which it will occupy a space in Anshen + Allen’s Boston office. Regardless of where you may visit it, its creator is open-minded about a work that’s still in progress. “It will be updated with new research, or new products that we feel tell the story better,” Stack promises.
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