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Think Out Loud

How Can We Design A Better Hospital?

Allison Frost/OPB

Researcher Roger Ulrich says there are many reasons to love gardens. They’re beautiful and restful — and most people would rather look at a garden than say, a brick wall. But, he says, that’s not why more and more hospitals over the last decade and a half have integrated them into their design. That’s happened because research has shown that exposure to natural environments has demonstrable positive and cost-saving outcomes on health. In other words, patients tend to get well more quickly, need fewer drugs and require less follow up care — which all translates into savings. 

Ulrich says the Legacy Health gardens are remarkable, setting an “international benchmark” for therapeutic gardens. And he points out, they’re not just for patients. They also have a significant effect on family members and hospital staff. Family and staff are worthy of care in their own right, he says, but they also play a critical role in patient health outcomes.

Legacy Health has 11 therapeutic gardens on its six campuses. These photos are from the newest garden, outside the ICU and birthing unit, and the Children's Garden, one floor below.

In addition to access to nature, Ulrich has studied other cost-saving features of hospital design. These include making sure hospital rooms are big enough and have enough furniture to accommodate patient families, positioning the patient beds closer to the bathroom to prevent falls, and installing ceiling hoists to prevent falls and back injuries frequently suffered by hospital staff when trying to move patients.

We’ll hear more about designing more effective and healthy hospitals. Did you have access to gardens or nature the last time you were in the hospital? What questions do you have about building nature or other design features into a hospital?


  • Roger Ulrich: Professor of Architecture at the Center for Healthcare Building Research at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden

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