How is the wellness industry impacting the design of clinical spaces?
In each issue we identify a key aesthetic trend evident in our archive of recent projects and challenge semiotics agency Axis Mundi to unpack its design codes. Frame 130’s took a look at how the wellness industry is impacting the design of clinical spaces.
Our contemplation of mortality is perhaps at its most stark under fluorescent strip lighting, seated on an antimicrobial vinyl chair. There’s nowhere to hide from the resonance of worried thoughts as they are amplified and reverberated between windowless, wipe-clean walls. In the greige, blue and white imagination of the conventional clinic, time itself seems to slow down, the universal presence of old magazines signalling only stasis.
The post-war provision of mass healthcare required radical industrial efficiency to meet society’s demand for swift and safe delivery of such services. The spartan, streamlined and generally nondescript design of clinical settings helped normalize the idea of the ‘body as machine’ – a cog in the system. Accordingly, recognition of humans as organic, feeling beings relied solely on the social skills of health care professionals.
Today we’re finally starting to break away from this ethos of impassive anonymity and mechanical processes. A more holistic attitude to health based on personalized experiences and preventive rather than reactive treatments is being interpreted in the styling of a variety of health care spaces. This evolving wellness aesthetics reflects society’s desire for optimized productivity and lifelong health. Salutogenic design principles – supporting human wellbeing rather than limiting focus to treating illness and disease – intend to reduce stress, improve mood and mitigate feelings of alienation.
An ambition to reconcile the relationship between body, mind and surroundings means that the aesthetic line separating the boutique gym from the doctor’s surgery is rapidly blurring. The cool, sharp edge of the surgeon’s knife is increasingly appeased by organic architectural forms and the patina of salvaged materials, the threatening whirr of the dental drill absorbed by soft furnishings and the comforting return of carpeting.
Post-clinical interiors are typically modular and mobile. Playing with height, hierarchy and kinetic structures signals sensitivity to the role of scale in shaping experience. From intimate consultations to group therapy, dynamic units can be rapidly reconfigured to encourage user confidence and facilitate more equitable interactions. Elevated partitions, translucent apertures and ultralight materials even appear to levitate, defying gravity in an approximation of spiritual enlightenment.
Mindful use of light and colour also encodes the promise of restoration and renewal. Cerulean blue and warm amber tones accent backdrops of shuttered concrete and natural pine, affording the effect of a perpetual ‘golden hour’ where the soft glow of the rising or setting sun bathes us in benevolent energy and the circadian promise of new beginnings. Opposing concepts associated with complementary teal and orange hues – earth and sky, land and sea, day and night – signify the importance of balance and flow in post-clinical contexts. Health is recast as an essentially self-regulating system that will continue to perform optimally as long as proactive steps are taken to preserve it.
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