sunlight and hope

As a family we have seen the inside of a hospital far too much in the last few years, today was no exception as once again my mum is in the ICU following a major surgery. She is in good hands of well trained medical staff, but there is always that sense of wondering what else one can do to help the healing process (except pray!).

While my expertise is certainly not in hospital design, I am interested with the wellbeing that architecture can promote.  There are several new hospitals in the UK that push the boundaries of conventional hospital envelopes and that were started by one architects experience of his wife and her fight with cancer. Maggie’s Centres are a place for cancer patients and their families, that have been built by high profile architects whose brief was ” to create a space that is both uplifting and protective, in which people can find the strength to live with hope and joy in the face of a cancer diagnosis.”

Charles Jencks writes about a sort of ‘placebo effect’ of good architecture where qualities such as light, space, openness, intimacy, views, connectedness to nature and a domestic scale – the opposite of a standard hospital environment – combined with information, relief; psychological, emotional and even financial support contribute to the urge to “go on living”.

Access to daylight is important for both staff and patients. For patients, it has been found to reduce pain and the incidence of depression, and for certain types of patients, it also may reduce length of stay. Charles Jencks talks in his book ‘The Architecture of Hope‘ of how it impacts the staff in a positive way.

Here’s a funny insight: in a way, the carers are more important than the patients. Because if the carers are cared for, they turn up, they enjoy it and you create this virtuous circle, this mood in a Maggie’s Centre which is quite amazing. So architecture helps do that because it looks after the carers. There’s a lot of people who would quite rightly attack that notion, and I don’t want to claim that we can yet prove it, but we hope to.”

There are studies on the effect that natural light has on the health of the patients. One study suggests that patients feel less pain when exposed to nature and daylight, proposing that hospital rooms have larger windows. Sunlight exposure increases levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter known to inhibit pain pathways. ( This has to be balanced of course with the need for rest and sleep!) Walch et al compared the use of pain medications in patients who were on the bright and dim side of a hospital. Those on the bright side were exposed to 46% higher sun intensity and perceived less stress and less pain and took fewer analgesics.

It is of course not the magic cure, and there are of course multiple demands and factors in the design of different medical facilities, staff and medical requirements that there is no space to dwell on here. But if I can design spaces that HELP the healing process rather than hinder – then that is something at least…. she’s going to wonder why I keep pulling the curtains open now…..



Photos : Maggies Centre, Dundee, Gehry by Chris Hill and Miomarr


example: Richard Rogers – Maggies Centre, London. and interview.

Guardian Article on Maggies Centres,

Scientific research on evidence based healthcare and patient and staff environments here.



One thought on “sunlight and hope

  1. Excellent post and a wonderful example of Frank Gehry’s effort into this area of design. He’s apparently very involved in microbiology research with regard to cancer. As i understand, he spends times each year devoted to that effort. And if I remember correctly, he lost his daughter to cancer as well as Maggie Jencks, a close friend. Well done piece..


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