A Room With a View

When you visit your physician’s office, or if you’ve had the unfortunate experience of being hospitalized, you may or may not have noticed your view to the outside – if you even had one at all.

Several studies have shown that adequate and appropriate exposure to light, both natural and artificial, is critical for the health and well-being of patients as well as staff in healthcare settings. By controlling the body’s circadian system, light impacts outcomes by reducing depression among patients, decreasing length of stay in hospitals, improving sleep and circadian rhythm, lessening agitation among dementia patients, easing pain, and improving adjustment to night-shift work among staff. The sun sounds pretty valuable, right? Studies also show that adequate light levels are linked to reduced medication-dispensing errors in pharmacies. While these may sound like no-brainer concepts, you would be surprised how crucial optimal lighting is in general, but especially in a healthcare environment.

Concept for children’s hospital – Jessica Park

Great lighting isn’t accomplished simply by adding floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the building. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were so simple? Other design considerations include the building’s orientation to sunlight at various times during the day and implementing specific design features with the end goal of controlling, yet maximizing, access to daylight. These design elements may include solar tubes, window glazing, skylights, redirection devices, and daylight-responsive electric lighting controls. Daylight-responsive lighting assesses the amount of natural light within a space and then adjusts the amount of artificial lighting accordingly. Interior design elements such as furniture design and layout, and room surface finishes are also taken into consideration in order to optimize natural daylight. In the residential world, solar tubes or “sun tunnels” are becoming an increasingly popular way to bring natural light into a dark hallway or other part of the home that may be missing natural light – just ask HGTV’s Brian Patrick Flynn, who perfectly explains the sun tunnel here.

Daylighting is just one example of how healthcare interior design can impact your wellbeing. Many people are unaware of the concept of healthcare interior design – what it is– and how it affects you the patient, you the caregiver, or you the staff member on a daily basis.

Read on for the highlights of my interview with my former professor, Seena Hassouna AIA, EDAC, ICGB, from New York School of Interior Design for a more in-depth view of this field. 

Healthcare Interior Design – What Is It, and Why Does it Matter?

Simply put, it’s making healthcare environments feel hospitable to those who work in them and those who visit them for needed care. Nobody wants to go to the doctor or the hospital. Our job is to help the experience feel as good as it can. We do that by enhancing the built environment to improve the experience of patients and staff. We strive to design spaces with clear wayfinding, good lighting, durable but beautiful materials and comforting and supportive sense of place.

Tell us what made you go into this field?

It was in many ways a mix of accidental and fate. My parents were both involved in healthcare as clinicians and policy makers. They never pushed me to it but many years later a chance encounter started me on this path. While visiting a dear friend after the birth of her son, her healthcare architect father suggested I move to California to work in the field. I dove in headfirst into healthcare planning for several large hospital campuses during a big building boom in southern California and never looked back.

What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of your work?

I enjoy meeting with healthcare professionals and helping make a direct impact on their daily life and the lives of their patients. Healthcare is still way behind many other industries but there is real change happening. I think healthcare is going to look and feel very different in 10 years for the majority of patients and clinicians.

There are many design elements that impact healthcare outcomes, can you discuss some of these with us?

There is some research that has shown benefits of natural light in healing environments. Regarding actual healthcare outcomes, other impacts are harder to prove since health is a complicated issue influenced by many factors. That said, we can have an impact on how staff and clinicians work. Reducing medical errors is a pressing issue across all healthcare environments. A way design can support this reduction is by designing environments that are intuitive to use and keep people focused on the work they need to do. Designing patient care spaces so that each is identical in layout with all the tools needed close at hand is one deceptively simple tool. Another is creating the right balance of collaborative and focused work space for staff to perform both team-based and “heads down” work such as medication preparation or documentation. Two often overlooked or undervalued tools are appropriate lighting and acoustics. Without these, even the best planned space can be rendered unusable or uncomfortable and drive down staff productivity and satisfaction.

How does being a healthcare planning architect differ from a traditional architect?

As a healthcare planning focused architect, I see my role to be an interpreter between the healthcare professionals (users) of a facility and the rest of the architectural team. Much of what I do is helping both sides understand what is important to them and how we can, as a team, make a building that the occupants will find enjoyable to be in, be functional, meet all requirements of architectural and engineering building codes, and be a thoughtful piece of architecture that improves its surroundings.

What project(s) have you worked on that you are most proud of?

3 Recent projects are:

ColumbiaDoctors Tarrytown– An adaptive reuse of a modernist office building for outpatient care including imaging

Mount Sinai Saint Luke’s outpatient pavilion renovations– Multiple renovations to an existing hospital that is shifting its focus to outpatient care in one of its main buildings

101 Pennsylvania Ambulatory Care Center– A ground up ambulatory care center in East New York


Product health and transparency are becoming increasingly important – from beauty products to household cleaners, consumers are demanding more. This is also true in the healthcare design world. How are your clients implementing “cleaner” design solutions?

This varies greatly from client to client. Some are seeing the value in such products while others are sticking to their current standards, many of which are first cost and durability focused. Cleaner design solutions may consist of PVC-free upholstery and/or flooring, phthalate-free wall coverings, low to no-VOC emitting paints, and green space incorporated within the facility for patient and staff use to name just a few. HPDs (Health Product Declarations) and EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) are helping designers and architects evaluate building product transparency and the life-cycle environmental impact of these products. For instance, what happens to all the vinyl flooring you pull up throughout an entire facility – where does it go? How does it impact the environment?

A facility may choose to pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. LEED is, in a nutshell, “green building” and seeks to maximize the building occupants’ health and productivity, while using fewer resources, reducing waste and negative environmental impacts, and decreasing life cycle costs. Architects and designers may look for building products with a Cradle to Cradle certification to help achieve LEED status. The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard provides criteria and requirements for continually improving what products are made of and how they are made, in terms of safety and sustainability.

Seena Hassouna AIA, EDAC, Lean Green Belt

Vice President | senior healthcare planner at CannonDesign, New York

Adjunct instructor, Interim Director MPS-H | New York School of Interior Design

The study and practice of architecture has played a major role in my life for over 20 years. With a broad experience in the field, I bring a balanced perspective to the complex process of developing a project and bringing it to fruition. I’ve dedicated the past 12 years to healthcare programming, planning, and design of large healthcare campuses and facilities. I approach each project with an open mind, ready to add value, and a desire to broaden my experience and mentor others seeking to learn.