Ten health care buildings draw on the healing powers of nature.

Hundreds of scientific studies have shown that spending time in nature improves physical and mental health, lowering blood pressure, easing pain, and bolstering the immune system. Even simply giving hospital patients views of nature from their room can shorten their stays. Health care providers are taking note, incorporating gardens and other forms of greenery into new facilities, in many cases extending the health benefits into the wider community by providing publicly accessible parks, trails, and meadows.

The following 10 projects—all completed during the past five years—include a round orthopedic clinic in a forest, a dialysis facility with garden views for every patient, a medical center with indoor/outdoor solariums looking out to a nearby mountain, and a Parisian hotel with a vertical green wall facing the street and its own health care facility.

(Ryan Kurtz)

RON NYREN is a freelance architecture and urban design writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.

1. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Critical Care Building Expansion
Cincinnati, Ohio

The expansion of the Critical Care Building at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center includes four distinct outdoor spaces: a garden designed to give respite for caregivers; a garden for families and visitors; a terrace garden visible from patient rooms with trees, flowers, and native grasses; and a grassy plaza/community garden across the street from the nearby residential area, designed with input from neighbors.

The expansion is configured in two wings that angle outward to flank the terrace garden. Extensive glazing at the tip of each wing, where amenities for staff, family, and patients are placed, brings in daylight and views to the outdoors. Designed by the Seattle office of ZGF and the local office of GBBN and completed in 2021, the building triples the capacity of the existing emergency department and adds 225 beds, a rooftop heliport, and a wet lab for research. The next phase will involve renovating an existing building into a dining hall with another terrace.

(Joergen True)

2. Haraldsplass Hospital New Ward Building
Bergen, Norway

At the foot of the tree-covered Ulriken Mountain, Haraldsplass Hospital has offered patients views of both the city of Bergen and the nearby Pudde Fjord since its first building was constructed in 1940. The complex’s newest structure continues that tradition: the Oslo office of C.F. Møller Architects gently angled the 170-bed main building to follow the bend of the adjacent Møllendalselven River, allowing each patient room to look out onto the valley and river. Wards are organized around two daylit atriums, forgoing the long corridors of traditional hospitals.

Positioning the building on a former parking lot in front of the old hospital preserved a 200-year-old allée of trees: a pedestrian bridge connects the new edifice to the rest of the complex. Another pedestrian bridge across the river links visitors to the nearby light-rail station. The facade’s oak panels, set in white glass fiber concrete, harmonize with the mountain setting. Completed in 2018, the building includes a new main entrance, an emergency room, and a ground-floor hospice with its own garden.

(©Tim Griffith)

3. MarinHealth Medical Center: Oak Pavilion
Greenbrae, California

Updated state seismic standards for hospitals required MarinHealth Medical Center to build a new facility for inpatient, diagnostic, and emergency services. Tucked into a hillside, the Oak Pavilion provides patients with a variety of indoor/outdoor environments that offer views of nature for healing. Floor-to-ceiling windows in patient rooms, waiting areas, and other public spaces look out onto gardens, wetlands, a creek, a public park, and nearby Mount Tamalpais.

The Los Angeles office of architecture firm Perkins Eastman configured patient units around five indoor/outdoor solarium living rooms, allowing even patients with IV poles to take in fresh air and the views. In cooler weather, the rooms’ glass doors can be closed for warmth. Four roof gardens, landscaped with low-water plant species, provide more opportunities for rest and regeneration. On two floors, waiting rooms surround a sunken garden equipped with multilevel patios and natural boulders. Large skylights illuminate nurses’ stations. Glass curtain walls help the facility blend into the landscape, minimizing its scale. The facility opened in 2020.

(©Albert Vecerka/Esto, courtesy of Ballinger)

4. Penn Medicine Radnor Ambulatory Care Center
Radnor, Pennsylvania

Penn Medicine Radnor’s new ambulatory care center, with its three-acre (1.2 ha) meadow of wildflowers and native grasses, rain gardens, and walking trails, turns an abandoned 1960s-era office park into a center for healing with nature visible from every waiting area. Waiting areas also feature 45 landscape-inspired works by local artists. The facility’s two wings and attached parking structure embrace a woodland courtyard. Floor-to-ceiling windows grant views to the outdoors and bring in daylight. A two-story elevated bridge links the wings, with glass printed with a ceramic frit pattern to keep passing birds safe. Meadows support wildlife habitat; stormwater basins filter runoff. Trails and green spaces are open to the public.

Designed by Philadelphia-based Ballinger, with landscape design by Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects of Wayne, Pennsylvania, the ambulatory care center opened in 2020. The University of Pennsylvania Health System partnered with Philadelphia-based Brandywine Realty Trust to develop the parcel, and Brandywine plans to add an office building and a hotel to the site in the future.

(Benjamin Benschneider)

5. Rainier Beach Clinic, Northwest Kidney Centers
Seattle, Washington

A former automotive salvage yard in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood now hosts a dialysis clinic that gives patients restful garden views as they sit—up to 16 hours per week—for blood-cleansing treatments. Every patient, nurse, and tech station, and every office workstation, looks out to the outdoors. Local firm Mahlum Architects, working with local landscape architect Brumbaugh and Associates, organized patients into intimate groups of four, each one with its own courtyard garden.

Biodiverse, seasonal native plantings were chosen to attract birds and pollinators, providing pleasant distractions during the long hours. Landscaping links to nearby urban greenbelts, including the Chief Sealth biking trail system, and a covered staff entry and bike storage area are placed next to the trail. Bioretention swales manage stormwater. Inside, warm, natural materials and textures throughout help avoid an institutional feel. Perforated exterior metal shades bring in dappled sunlight. Designed for local nonprofit organization Northwest Kidney Centers, the clinic opened in 2020.

(Courtesy of DP Architects and DP Green)

6. Sengkang Hospitals
Singapore

Bringing extensive green space to an area surrounded by residential high-rises, the Sengkang Hospitals campus combines a general hospital, a community hospital, and specialist outpatient clinics in one integrated development. Adjacent to a light-rail station, the publicly accessible ground level includes a shaded pedestrian concourse, a courtyard, seating, a contemplative water fountain, a butterfly garden, and other landscaped areas, as well as cafés, shops, training rooms, multipurpose rooms, and a lecture hall available for community use.

The podium’s fifth-story roof has an herb and spice garden for therapeutic gardening, with many custom, easy-to-reach planters tall enough for elderly patients and wheelchair users. All of the landscapes within Sengkang Hospitals are designed to create a therapeutic environment for patients with dementia. Caregivers have access to their own garden for resting and relieving stress. Ward blocks containing 1,400 hospital beds rise above the podium levels, offering views to the gardens below. Local firm DP Architects served as lead design architect for Sengkang Hospitals, which opened in 2018.

(Ivan Ortiz. ©Safdie Architects)

7. Serena del Mar Hospital Center
Cartagena, Colombia

A new master-planned city, Serena del Mar, is under construction on Cartagena’s northern coast, created by local developer Novus Civitas. The 2,500-acre (1,000 ha) city’s first public-facing institution, the Serena del Mar Hospital Center holds a prominent spot in the civic district, El Gran Canal, taking advantage of its waterfront site. A long bamboo courtyard serves as a spine for the primary pedestrian corridor, with five narrow inpatient wings reaching out toward a lake, granting all patient rooms access to daylight and views of water and nature.

Garden courtyards between each wing each have their own character and link to the waterfront promenade. Even the clinics, emergency rooms, and laboratories offer glimpses of nature. A nondenominational chapel is set within the bamboo garden. The first phase, with 158 beds, opened in 2021; when complete, the hospital will offer 400 beds. The Somerville, Massachusetts, office of Safdie Architects designed the facility, with EDSA of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, providing the landscape design; both firms also master-planned portions of Serena del Mar.

(Andrea Calo)

8. Texas Health Frisco
Dallas, Texas

Texan geological formations inspired the design of Texas Health Frisco, which has a precast concrete facade that mimics the textured shape and surface of rocks through a variety of surface treatments, patterns, aggregates, and colors. A large, shaded breezeway at the main entrance provides outdoor seating and a forest-floor landscape and links the complex’s eight-story, 132-bed hospital for Texas Health Resources; four-story medical office building for UT Southwestern Medical Center; and attached parking structure.

Massive glulam columns in “V” configurations support overhangs and canopies. Walking trails wind through the site, and a 0.25-acre (0.1 ha) pocket park serves as a spot for community yoga classes and educational events. Bioswales between parking bays filter runoff. Stormwater from the roof, in tandem with air-conditioning condensate, supplies 95 percent of irrigation needs. Most of the landscape is planted with native prairie grasses that need no watering. Opened in 2019, Texas Health Frisco was designed by the local office of HKS, with the local office of TBG Partners serving as landscape architect.

(Michael Denancé)

9. Villa M
Paris, France

Villa M is a hotel in Paris’s Montparnasse neighborhood in the 14th arrondissement that offers not only the usual amenities—conference space, a restaurant, a rooftop bar, a fitness center, 20 open office spaces, and coworking space—but also a health care center and a showroom for startups in the health care field. The owner, Groupe Pasteur Mutualité, is a local insurance provider for health care professionals.

On the exterior facing the street, a prefabricated metal structure contains a vertical wall of medicinal herbal plants rising to the building’s eight-story height. Fruit trees and plants grow on the roof as well, and a number of the guest rooms have terraces. Villa M opened in 2021 and was designed by the local office of Tryptique with local landscape architect Coloco and local interior designer Philippe Starck.

(Gionata Xerra)

10. Waldkliniken Eisenberg Hospital
Eisenberg, Germany

Waldkliniken is German for “forest clinic,” an apt name for an orthopedic care center set within the Thuringian Forest. When Waldkliniken held an international competition to design a new building, Milan-based Matteo Thun and Partners was chosen for its depth of experience in hospitality projects, with a six-story circular structure clad in glass and locally harvested larch wood. Collaborating with the Leipzig office of HDR Germany, Thun placed all patient rooms—most of them double-occupancy—along the perimeter to grant access to views to the outdoors. Every two patient rooms share a winter garden that brings in daylight and fresh air.

Completed in 2020, the facility includes several dining options, one of which is a high-end restaurant that features locally sourced ingredients. Vegetated roofs and a large, landscaped internal courtyard add further greenery. The designers relied on wood-based materials for interior surfaces and floors, and the structure itself is a hybrid of wood and concrete, reducing the amount of concrete required for the project.

RON NYREN is a freelance architecture, urban planning, and real estate writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.

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