The recuperative effect of the environment on people’s health has long been acknowledged, but an innovative design project at Writtle College is putting this into practice.
Students studying garden design and landscape architecture courses have been working with Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow on ways to improve the hospital grounds. The aim is to enhance people’s experiences of the hospital and to boost their wellbeing.
The students have produced master plans of the hospital site and the environment beyond, suggesting innovative design solutions – from better signage to parking improvements, wildlife corridors to concepts for gardens.
But the project is not just a theoretical exercise. The designs will soon go on show at the hospital in a special exhibition which will gather the views of the public, as part of a fundraising drive to make the designs a reality.
Steve Terry, Senior Lecturer in Design at Writtle College, said: “There is a lot of research into why green spaces are important to hospital environments. Our students work with that research and the possibilities presented by the hospital to create their design proposals. They have created master plans of the hospital as well as working on individual areas. The idea is to ‘green’ the hospital and connect it more successfully to the local environment providing staff, patients and hospital visitors, with a landscape that contributes to healing and wellbeing.
“The advantage with Writtle School of Design is that we have a range of courses that engage with the environment through design. This project draws on different disciplines, putting design theory into practice. The students have shown how research into the impact of green spaces on healthy living can be turned into tangible solutions. Moreover, this gives our students valuable experience of working with real clients and real projects.”
The project involves students in the Writtle School of Design (WSD) who are studying for a Foundation Degree in Garden Design, BA (Hons) Landscape Architecture, BA (Hons) Landscape and Garden Design, Garden Design Restoration and Management and MA conversion in Landscape Architecture.
The students’ rationale was to take a large scale design in the public realm and to look at the ideas of community, green infrastructure, ecology and diversity of land use. The students developed five conceptual approaches and presented these to Marc Davis, Director of Development at Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust and the estates team.
Mr Davis said: “We approached Writtle School of Design as they have an excellent reputation for designing projects on brief. The standard of work was exceptionally high and we look forward to working with these concepts and ideas.”
The designs look at signage, landscape legibility, signposting the entrances, ‘green-ing’ the hospital, parking flows and how the hospital is linked with the other green spaces in Harlow.
Steve explains: “This last point is interesting on a number of levels. By linking up the hospital site with other walkways and cycle routes, students have looked at a way of making healthier living easier while alleviating pressures on parking that every hospital faces.
“Additionally, a love of nature and wildlife is known to have a positive impact on recuperation. Harlow was created by Frederick Gibberd as a ‘green town’ and, by linking these green spaces, we can create wildlife corridors, connecting patches of green space to encourage free movement of wildlife through the hospital site. The hospital is home to some fantastic mature trees and the students have worked with the existing vegetation to enhance it and create more bio-diverse landscapes, which can be easily managed.”
The project is the fourth time that WSD has worked with hospitals. Four years ago, students created art installations for the grounds of St Peter’s Hospital in Maldon.
Then in 2005, the College’s Centre for Arts and Design in the Environment (CADE) was commissioned to look at the feasibility of courtyards as part of the plans for the then-new development at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.
Last year, design students created art installations for Broomfield Hospital’s Pudding’s Wood.
George Nattross, 20, from Ongar, was involved in the Princess Alexandra Hospital project and said: “My group looked at time and the shifting concept of time in a hospital – how it speeds up with hospital bed days and slows down when you look at recovery times. We introduced the flow of a stream to reflect this as well as using nature and the views from windows to distract people, which impacts on their sense of time.”
Luke Whitaker, 28, from Cirencester, said: “We wanted to return the site to nature, trying to create green
corridors, wildflower meadows and different types of woodlands and open space. This was to reflect the fact that the county of Essex was originally covered in woodlands, having a positive impact on air quality, and the original design of the town of Harlow, which includes large green wedges. In bringing the natural landscape into the hospital grounds, we wanted the hospital to act as a stepping stone for local wildlife, encouraging it into the grounds, and having a positive impact on health and wellbeing.”
Vicky Kendrick, 21, from Germany, added: “After working in groups, we then carried out individual projects looking in more detail at specific areas in the design master plan, such as seating areas for people to go for lunch, woodland walks, small courtyard areas and the western side of the building. The Landscape Architecture students tended to look at circulation and the gateway to the site – how you gain access for pedestrians and for carers as well - while the Garden Design students looked at courtyards and enclosed spaces.
“It was a great experience to work at this scale and when the client listens to your presentation and is enthusiastic it adds that extra bit of motivation.”