What are the Words to Describe a True Integrative Space?

“. . . .only architecture built up out of adjectives can nourish the soul.” 

Christopher Day, Places of the Soul

This succinct phrase by eco-architect Christopher Day sums up the essence of what an integrative space entails.  It doesn’t just entail a building but the experience behind the building.

When I’m working with a team during the process of creating a unique and unforgettable healthcare facility, I have an exercise I do that moves them from thinking they’re building a hospital—or a dental office, or senior housing, or a medical clinic—to the intention behind this building.

The goal is to get them beyond the physical structure of the hospital or other healing space, and let them discover what kind of experience they want people to have.  They come up with adjectives to describe their ultimate end-plan.

A patient may forget that there are granite floors but they won’t forget instances when the staff was remarkably friendly and attentive.  A resident in a senior home or assisted living facility may not even notice the wallpaper in the halls, but will certainly take note if there are fresh flowers in the lobby.  Going to have a root canal may distract a patient from paying attention to the upholstery in the waiting room, but doesn’t prevent the patient from being intrigued by the artwork.

Although floors and wallpaper and upholstery are all crucial to the design of the space, the feeling that people experience is what they remember.  This feeling comes from designing with explicit patient-centered intentions.

Every healthcare team wants to create a space where people can get healthy or stay healthy—-a great goal to be sure and appropriate for medical facilities.  However, it’s the adjectives behind it that make the difference.

Thomas Lockwood, in his book Design Thinking, states:

“Coming to an understanding of what customers value is far more beneficial than asking them what they want.”

It’s crucial that the healthcare team who is creating a space for patients/residents think not just about creating an integrative space, or think of an integrative space, but think through the concept of integrative space.  What do people value?  What are the descriptors they would use for an unforgettable moment?

Once those words/adjectives have been harvested, the project can begin its physical expression.