Bringing Nature Nearer to the Patient


graham cooper is an artist/designer with a twenty-year involvement in healthcare design. He co-ordinated the architecture programme for Japan 2001 and introduced Osaka Architect Tadao Ando to the Manchester Piccadilly Gardens Regeneration, the largest new urban green space and the first significant building in the UK by a major Japanese architect. Since 1994, he has been Chairman of Art & Architecture, a unique cross-discipline network which advocates a better quality built environment for all. In July, Graham Cooper launched the Nature of Health Design project, which aims to produce settings that engage users of healthcare with nature. As part of the scheme, a touring exhibition presenting key recent hospital projects in the UK and Japan will open in Devon in October. Evidence-based research, has clearly demonstrated that the typical hospital environment is highly stressful, causing a negative impact on the quality of care and medical outcomes. Although patients have been shown to benefit from contact with the outside world and, in particular, views of the surrounding landscape, this is rarely considered when healthcare facilities are procured. Such findings are endorsed by the Centre for Healing Environments, Tokyo, where research into clinical spaces strongly advocates reducing levels of stress and anxiety. It is this type of research about therapeutic spaces and healthy environments which underpins my latest project. The aim is to provide guidance for how art, architecture and garden design can be integrated to raise quality of life through linking the users to their surroundings, by bringing natural phenomena nearer to the patient¹s experience. It celebrates the belief that the arts and especially nature as positive distractors have the power to reduce levels of stress.

The initial phase of the project begins with the opening of a touring exhibition in Exeter which uses panel presentations arranged to reflect the patient¹s journey through spaces of potential interaction, where the art process and the building are the vehicle to connect the patient to the rhythms and changing patterns of nature.

Much of enthusiasm for this theme has developed from the contact I have had with Japan over the past decade. I have been observing hospitals in Japan since 1993. Two years later in the aftermath of the Great Hanshin earthquake, I was invited to join the Hospital Damage Design Study in Kobe, undertaken by the Kyoto Institute of Technology. At the time, I was in Kansai on a Japan Foundation Artist Fellowship, carrying out a project on Art in the context of Contemporary Architecture, hosted by Dr Kisho Kurokawa.

As a result of the fellowship, my general interest in Japanese architecture began to focus on the distinctive approach to nature in Japan, and how this could impact on the construction of buildings designed to promote health. In October 1998,with help from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, I was able to revisit Japan to document the ways in which artists and designers were contributing towards the latest range of health care facilities across Japan. During this time Japan had experienced a rapid growth in the construction of thses services, creating ample scope for creative innovation.

Examples include the Shiranui Mental Care clinic in Kyushu by architect Itsuko Hasegawa, who deliberately relocated the SEAWARD Stress Centre for the patients to benefit from the changing ambience associated with the tidal estuary and the St Luke¹s Medical Centre in Tokyo, which won an urban regeneration award for (ITS NATURAL HARMONY!! Try for its approach to landscaping. through features such as a large roof garden. These facilities reflect a distinctive feature of Japanese architecture, namely "ma" the blurring of boundaries between inside and out.

In November 2002, when I was invited to give the keynote speech at the Forum for Healing Environment (FHE)¹s inaugural conference at The Big Sight in Tokyo. At this event, the FHE Awards were presented, to recognise medical facilities which have improved their environments in order to create a place that provides healing and comfort. No such forum exists in the UK and I felt there were lessons to be learnt from the event. Some of the innovations I witnessed following the conference are introduced in the Nature of Healing Arts Exhibition.

The Nature of Healing Arts in the UK & Japan exhibition will open at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital from October 1 to 15. It can then be seen at the Architecture Centre in Bristol from October 21 to November 10 and at The Lighthouse in Glasgow from November 28 to January 5, 2004.

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