5 Gorgeous Hospitals That Show How Good Design Can Improve Patients’ Lives

These health care facilities look more like Google’s campus than the drab, depressing spaces most of us experience when we’re sick.


If you’ve ever been wheeled into an ER room on a stretcher and spent hours staring at a windowless gray wall, you’re already aware that traditional hospitals haven’t exactly been designed to be comforting. But that’s changing. Forward-thinking hospitals are realizing that good design that improve patients’ mood can actually help people get well faster.


“In the past, the design of health care facilities was focused more on supporting the patient care team than the actual patient,” says Scott Habjan, associate director at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who served as jury chair for the recent AIA National Healthcare Design Awards. The winning designs all give patients more attention, based on research that shows the physical environment can help patients feel less stressed, take less pain medicine, and improve more quickly.

“Qualities like natural light, views to nature, and quiet and clean patient rooms all contribute to a positive patient experience,” Habjan says. “Planning that keeps caregivers closer to the patient and environments that give them a sense of control serve to support the healing process. Conversely, facilities designed without the patient in mind can be particularly stressful and depressing to someone already in a vulnerable state.”

Read about a few of the award winners to see examples of facilities thinking differently:

Benjamin Benschneider

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center


To help keep terrified kids calm, the main atrium and hallways of this hospital’s pediatric ER department in Spokane, Washington is filled with wood, warm colors, and plenty of natural light. A “healing garden” offers families a green space for relaxing, with views from above for children who can’t go outside. Hospital rooms are filled with bright art. (Design by Mahlum.)


Fifth XiangYa Hospital

This large hospital in Changsha, China was built next to a park so patients have green views and families can relax on park benches outside. Several areas, like a cafe space, are completely enclosed in glass, surrounded by flowers, trees, and ponds. Light pours through a main atrium with a massive green wall. (Design by Payette.)

Tom Arban


Bridgepoint Active Healthcare

Every patient room in this Toronto chronic disease center has panoramic views of trees and parks outside, and patients can also relax open terraces. Large, open glass staircases tempt people to walk upstairs rather than taking the elevator, for a little extra exercise. A courtyard with a labyrinth outside gives patients a place to walk. (Design by Stantec Architecture, KPMB Architects, HDR Architecture and Diamond Schmitt Architects.)

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Robley Rex VA Replacement Medical Center and VBO Office Building

Based on a philosophy of “healing with honor,” this veterans hospital in Louisville, Kentucky is filled with peaceful gardens, elevated courtyards, and natural light. A massive photo of soldiers marks the entrance. The building also aims for sustainability, with solar panels, plants, and rainwater collection on the roof, and an energy-saving design. (Design by URS/SmithGroup Joint Venture.)

Mitch Tobias

Studio Dental Mobile Unit

This mobile dental office is designed to be more convenient–it drives to you–but also more comfortable than a typical office. Skylights built into the ceilings let in light through a perforated design, and warm wood cabinets surround the exam chairs. While your teeth get cleaned, you can watch a TV built into the ceiling. (Design by Montalba Architects, Inc.)

Check out all eight winners here.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."