Impact of colors in hospital design

Colors, Architecture, and Healing: A Harmonious Approach

portrait of painter man with paintroller and wooden vintage ladder showing a color palette, on half painted wall

Hospital Design impacts patient’s health hence a well planned hospital along with artistic and therapeutic features help a patient have a much better healing experience. Colors have a fundamental role in design as they enhance the environment and provide information and spatial orientation, help the occupants make sense of their surroundings. Colors used in the hospital interiors , exteriors, signage’s etc have a direct impact on the psychological and physiological response on patient’s state of mind and on how they receive treatment. Well chosen colors and decorative elements help create eye pleasing aesthetics and environment conducive for positive impact on patients.

How do colors influence human behavior?
Colors are capable of influencing human behavior as they help in lowering stress levels. They encourage calmness which in turn effect state of mind of patient and  make them more receptive to treatment and are said to have positive impact on patient’s health and lift patient’s spirit. Hence carefully chosen wall and ceiling colors, flooring designs, furniture pieces and artistic pieces all which infuse color in the interiors create an impact and alter human behavior.

What is Color and how do we perceive color as Warm or Cool or Neutral color ?
The most basic definition of color is how humans perceive electromagnetic radiation emitted from a light source. All physical objects absorb or reflect different wavelengths of light giving them color.
We perceive color as Warm, Cool or Neutral color by usually the emotion they create in us, when we look at them.
Warm colors are typically oranges, reds ,dark yellows , they give a feeling of energy and coziness .
Cool colors are typically greens, blues, greys, they give a feeling of calmness ,promote rest and relaxation.
Neutral color are typically whites, offwhites, beiges and even softer greys,they give a feeling of subtleness and make small spaces seem larger.

So how do we select color for the different area of the hospital?
We choose color for different spaces of the hospital , primarily keeping in mind the these things. Firstly the  mission and vision of the hospital. If they have a specific usage of the hospital for example a mother and child facility or cardiac facility then interiors and colors used will be more specific but in case of a multispecialty hospital  the color usage will be in a different manner. Then the next thing that is to be considered is the location and culture of the hospital, where the hospital is located for example in a metropolitan city the hospital can take on offbeat color pallete in some areas of the hospitals but definitely not in a small city center hospital. Thirdly we also keep in mind that emotions the color might invoke, so essentially it is walking on a tight rope while making the hospital look good , we have to select colors which do not stress out the patient or the staff because after all color invoke emotions. We also keep a simple designing principle in mind not to use more than three to four colors in an interior space as usually more than three to four colors tend to cause confusion in one’s mind and may create stress for some. To put it simply use color in an hospital interior space so that it gives a harmonious look and add contrast or accents colors in small dosages to make engaging and interesting interiors.

So based on this supposition lets map out few basic colors and how and where they can be used in hospital.

White– It is most widely used and recommended color as it symbolizes cleanliness and implies sterility too ,which is one most important feature of any hospital. White color makes the space look spatial and airy and also gives a feeling of calmness and peacefulness. Thus this color has been widely used in both ceilings and walls of any room or corridor of the hospital. Also as white combined with any other color like blue, green, pink , yellow , you name the color and it usually works well in any interior setting , it is easy to combine and use hence most used color .

Blue –  Till a few decades ago hospitals walls were painted blue or green alongwith white and made to do with. But with changing times the Blue color in hospitals has also undergone stylish makeover. Blue is a cool color and  has a soothing appeal and is known to bring down stress and helps in lowering blood pressure. It is more often used in OT Suites, Radiology and Diagnostic areas as it is least visually demanding colors help the clinicians concentrate on their work and also give patients a sense of calmness. This color when combined imaginatively with softer color greys, pinks, light yellow and green on walls and flooring can bring a fresh appeal to the interiors and is very often used in Peadiatric wards and ICU’s.

Green – The color green is associated with nature. Nature that nurtures, calms and soothes us, refreshes and relaxes us. This cool color with such qualities was well justified in its extensive use in the hospital, but somewhere down the line it became one of the washed out color in hospital settings. Now with emergence of out of box thinking by architects and designers alike, Green has emerged as forefront color once again. Not only used as to calm the nerves  of patients and used for patient rooms, psychiatry ward etc this color is been innovatively been used as logo color, signage color, accent color , pop up color to brighten up dull scenario with use of plants, small trees, murals , statues etc.

Lilac/Lavender/Purple– This soft  healing colors is often associated with nurturing. It is a gentle and cool color and is usually used in Obstetric and Gynecology departments of the hospitals/ mother and child facilities. The Lilac color that comforts and nourishes has a direct connection with mother and child unit. This color gives calm to the expectant mother and resilience to female patients to face their medical issues. Also the fact that this color combines with almost any other color be it white, blue, yellow, green with such elegance that it is a designers preferred choice.

Yellow – This is a warm color that adds warmth to any surrounding and can be combined with any other color without much ado. This color though has one drawback it tends reflect its color and interferes with examination , so this color is not recommended where the doctor is examining patient for skin diseases, skin discoloration or jaundice etc. Despite its shortfall, this color cheerfully adds to the brightness and hence very popular for reception areas, waiting area for OPD’s, bleak corridors etc. Combining Yellow with colorful flooring, wall art, nature etc is a super easy and you are sure to get a blockbuster combination without much ado.

Orange – This is a warm color which infuses vitality in the environment. It is a happy  and bold color which when coordinated with neutral colors such as beige, grey etc and can create energetic environment  which are specially required for rehabilitation rooms, physical therapy rooms and pediatric areas too .This vibrant color encourages the patient to exercise in physical therapy areas, and it brings vibrancy and life to pediatric areas where sick children feel energized and cheerful when bright colors such as orange is used as accent to brighten the surroundings.

Brown – This is a flat and an unexciting color on its own . But the fact that nature is a combination of brown and green which makes it beautiful, the same goes for brown being used in hospitals, mostly for furniture , doors  and paneling which when combined with other colors create a visual treat and also soften up the other bright colors to make them comfortable and endurable for hospital surroundings.

Beige /Off White – Both these colors are from the neutral family of colors ,  and as such these colors are fine and subtle in nature. These colors are often used as base colors for patient rooms , hospital staff working areas etc because there unobtrusive nature they subtlety grow on you give the calm that is required to heal or do work. These colors when combined with bright colors such as pink, green, blue, yellow etc. which are used as accent colors to create pleasing spaces.
These are a few of the many colors that are used in hospital interiors.

Thus the color is an essential tool in a designer’s toolkit and it helps in transforming antiseptic and sterile look of the hospital into a cultivated and tasteful look Thus it is responsibility of the designer to be cautious and considerate in the selection of color so that it is customized to the specific hospital facility and the purpose the healthcare facility serves. The colors serve as an accessory in enabling  patient and staff well being so use colors wisely and balance them out such that they are tools that bring vitality and well being  into interiors of your hospitals.

Aditi Mohan, Consultant Interior Designer