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Reaching Out, Ushering In: Transparent Buildings & Regenerative Gardens

In part three of this series on hospice design, Ila Burdette of Perkins+Will discusses the importance of the design of outdoor spaces at a hospice in supporting the work of the caregivers.

Welcoming hospices that sensitively house treatment programs for the terminally ill can architecturally support caregivers’ extraordinary work. Perkins+Will has found we can do even more when the design extends into the surrounding landscape.

Transparent Buildings: Reaching Out, Ushering In

When windows create strategic views into the landscape, interior spaces effectively grow into the site. Outdoor views help guests find their way around buildings, and also keep patients alert and oriented to time of day and season. An outside vista can encourage them to use gardens as outdoor rooms.

In addition to providing sunlight, large windows with views of outdoor gardens help keep patients oriented to time of day and season.

Conversely, strategically placed glazing can offer passersby outside the building a sense of what goes on inside. Major activity spaces that feature generous window walls can offer glimpses of a concert or a party or a meal. Well-lit glazed spaces glow, especially at dawn and dusk. Careful detailing can enhance the hospice’s transparency while preserving its energy efficiency.

Regenerative Gardens: A Place to Catch One’s Breath

Access to outdoor areas of respite is particularly important for every hospice patient, family and staff member. Tailoring gardens for each user group is rewarding. Quiet private gardens immediately outside patient rooms may link via walking trails to other meditative areas like outdoor chapels for those seeking solitude. Terraces, trellised patios and porches offer alternative dining areas for families.

Public memorial gardens are good gathering places for volunteers and donors, and attract the involvement of civic groups like Boy Scouts and garden clubs. Staff members, too, appreciate direct access to sunlight and fresh air, especially if it is possible to provide gardens adjacent to break rooms, artfully screened from accidental intrusion by families. With advance planning, each garden type can be organized to provide assorted levels of privacy and interaction.

This outdoor chapel is a wonderful, welcoming place for all types of activities.

Synergistic Goals: What Hospices and Sustainable Design Naturally Have in Common

Hospices dovetail beautifully with environmental sustainability. They are generally small, may be single-story, and are often freestanding, which means their mechanical and plumbing systems can more easily be independently designed for greater efficiencies.

Sustainable rating systems like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rewards many strategies sensitive hospice planners already incorporate for patient comfort.  Day lit interior spaces and exterior views, for example, particularly benefit hospice users.

LEED also encourages site preservation, the conscious preservation of natural site features and native flora and fauna, the creation of areas of refuge for patients and staff, and the use of warmly textured rapidly renewable materials like cork, bamboo and linoleum, all initiatives that dovetail with palliative care programs.

This boardwalk is a safe, elevated place to walk through the wetlands on the grounds of the hospice. The educational signage allows visitors to learn more about the environment.

In Part Four next week, we’ll look at a case study that illustrates many of Perkins+Will’s techniques in creating a welcoming hospice and campus tailored to its users: Willson Hospice, this year’s AIA/American Academy of Health National Design Award winner.

Ila Burdette, AIA, LEED BD+C, is a Principal with Perkins+Will where she leads the firm’s research and design of senior living projects, including hospices, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living, skilled nursing, and Alzheimer’s facilities.


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