Architecture solutions for positive patient recovery

| June 28, 2017

We often underestimate the influence the built environment has on our mental health as individuals and at large, our cities. Through research, healthcare professionals and architects have discovered the traditional clinical approach to designing buildings for mental health patients, such as solitude and a controlled environment, has been proven successful for interim recovery.

However, design solutions that encourage positive transitions back into the community, along with long-term prevention, need be integrated more frequently. Environmental stressors, restorative environments, and environmental psychology are prominent factors, contributing to someone’s mental health, and there needs to be a willingness in architecture to make them inclusive within the end result.

Scientific research is constantly proving to us that our environment has a major influence on our health, not only through our home environment, but progressively more so through our work and social environments. What’s more, the influence of these environments on somebody with a pre-existing mental illness is significantly higher than a person considered to have an absence of mental illness. Whilst there is a lack of post-occupancy analysis of patients following care within these health facilities, due to ethical considerations, we do know proven design aspects which assist in positive patient recovery.

Firstly, research has shown that exposing psychiatric patients to nature leads to significantly positive outcomes in recovery and long term benefits and helps to prevent relapses, compared to our urban environment. Nature has become the primary restorative environment for patients, and according to social psychologist Kaplan and Talbot (1983) nature is a means for positive recovery, with high proven success rates.

Secondly, transitional healthcare environments that address a step up/step down approach, encouraging independent development amongst the community are also considered positive. Transitional environments with little resemblance to a hospital setting offer psychiatric patients the option for treatment, but encourage independent living and create a sense of ‘normality’. Successful transition spaces focus on the interfaces between individual and group interactions, privacy and identity. For successful transitioning to occur, a patient has to be able to control the amount of societal factors they would like, when present in these spaces. According to social psychologist Irwin Altman (1975), the amount of privacy varies for the individual and is controlled through what he terms Privacy Regulation Theory.

Thirdly, evidenced-based design solutions such as access to natural light, accessible circulation for patients to move around, privacy, and flexible furniture are all positive influences. For patients to improve their mental state they need to be exposed to independent living strategies through evidence-based design.

Considering all these factors, mental health facilities still have to reflect an environment that prevents self-harm and safety to the patient and the staff and visitors alike. Staff in particular, need to feel safe whilst working in these facilities. The design should assist patients back into society, providing them with the right tools to create long term recovery through the prevention of relapse.



  1. narayaniwellness

    July 17, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    Very nicely written, i realy appreciate your ideas on how architecture can also play a huge role in patients recovery!

    • admin


      July 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

      Thank you for commenting @naryaniwellness. It’s an interesting concept which should be explored more. It shows the importance and great reach of good design in all areas of life.