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News archive - November 2016

Hospital design is a work of art

Hospital design is a work of art

In the past 20 years the way healthcare design is approached has changed beyond recognition.

Now it is much more widely accepted that how people feel in their surroundings, and ultimately their recovery, can be influenced by their environment.

This led to a much-greater focus on interior design, and, in particular, the inclusion of the arts in healthcare settings.

To create the evidence base needed to support investment in improvements to interior design, a lot of research was carried out, both in the UK and overseas, leading to a wealth of guidance on the best interventions. This research was backed by funding, which led to a vast increase in arts projects up and down the country.

And, despite a current lack of capital, good interior design remains at the fore.

Design quality

Jane Willis, director of arts and health consultancy, Willis Newson, told hdm: “If you look back 10 years there was a lot of work around supporting both the need for good design quality as a whole, and for the integration of art.

“There was a wealth of good design guidance and trusts were really encouraged to think hard about design at the very earliest stage.

“In the last five years, despite the current economic climate where we are all short of money, there are still a lot of examples of good practice out there.”

Successful projects, she said, come from having someone at the helm driving them from conception to completion - a good project director and an inspired client.

“From the very beginning, it’s important that art is included in the budget for any environmental improvement project,” she added.

“The great thing is that interiors and the arts are still included in local authority planning conditions and play a significant role, particularly in larger hospital projects.

“The most-successful schemes we have worked on have had an informed and inspired client and the recognition that certain areas need art and this has been integrated into the project from the start.”

And this is being driven from the very-highest level. Willis said: “I attended a recent cross-party Parliamentary meeting and this subject is still very high on the agenda and there appears to be a commitment to try and reinforce the importance of design quality and to look for ways policy can help to drive that.

“There were also several patient advocates at that meeting and they spoke very movingly about the difference art had made to them. Listening to them you get a very good understanding of the benefit and impact a good scheme can have.”

Willis Newson has seen this impact most recently during the redevelopment of Bristol Royal Infirmary, which has involved a wide-reaching arts strategy.

A hotel feel

The project was supported by award-winning photographer, Simon Roberts, who involved patients, staff and the local community in planning a series of artworks for wards and departments across seven floors of the new ward block.

“I find having these pictures on the wall makes the environment more approachable for patients and visitors,” said hospital spokesman, Sadie Webb.

“It makes the space feel modern, more like a hotel than a hospital. They are great for patient interaction and patients who are getting better often set goals for themselves to walk to the next photo, then the next.”

As well as helping to promote and encourage recovery, art also has an impact on things like wayfinding and can be particularly vital in dementia care and mental health settings.

Artist Tim A Shaw, and curator, Niamh White, have recently teamed up with artists, designers and photographers to transform a secure psychiatric unit in south London through their newly-launched charity, Hospital Rooms.

The group was given the task of enhancing the environment in the Phoenix Unit at Springfield University Hospital, which treats people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

The unit houses up to 18 adults at a time and, for most, they will stay there for between 18 months and three years.

White said: “It was about looking at how we value spaces and the people who are in them.

“We have worked in commercial galleries and museums and there is always a huge emphasis on quality and concept in relation to the arts. That was something we wanted to translate to this unit.

“This type of unit is often somewhere people can become overlooked and we wanted to think about how we could use art to make them feel valued.”

The team held 16 site visits before starting work, speaking to service users and staff about their vision for the various spaces.

The result is a series of bespoke installations and photographic prints, many far removed from the traditional hospital arts approach.

Valuing space

Shaw said: “I had a close friend who was sectioned and I know other people who have been treated in mental health units and often they are not quite the right environments to help with recovery.

“We brought in artists who would look at each space and give it its own identity. There are some traditional images of nature, but not everything should be the same. Sometimes you have to do something a bit more challenging.

“We felt safe doing this because we had met several times with the client and service users. Also, we were on site for six weeks while the work was carried out so they got used to us being there.

“People has the opportunity to comment on the work and we found that they did. It became a really creative project, more so than we could ever have imagined.”

As Willis said, having an informed client was vital for this project.

White said: “The hospital was really supportive and there was a lot of creative freedom. Innovation like this comes from partnerships.”

Shaw added: “It is amazing, not just to see the change in aesthetics within the unit, but to see staff and service users having a meaningful conversation about a particular piece of work. It has been a really valuable project and we should be doing it more across the NHS.”

The scheme proved so successful the team was asked to extend their reach to the courtyard space outside the unit.

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