How This Unique Hospital is Using Greenery as Medicine

The Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore is an example of what can happen when nature is used to help healing.

Sep 4, 2019

A beautiful natural setting with a green roof, communal gardens, windows that face greenery, the fragrance of native plants, and sounds of birds singing in the courtyard are not what most people expect to see, smell, or hear at a hospital. But Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTP) in Singapore uses nature to promote healing.

This unique public hospital opened in 2010 and serves over 800,000 people in Northern Singapore. Instead of the usual cold sterile halls, patients and visitors walk through green spaces on outdoor walkways. That's the way, the hospital was planned, according to MBG Planet.

In 2005, a Singapore design firm, CPG Corporation, was asked to design a hospital that would lower people's blood pressure when they entered the space.

"How do we challenge the idea of a hospital to deinstitutionalize it and make it look, smell, and feel unlike a hospital?" Jerry Ong Chin-Po, an architect who worked on the project, told  MGB. "We felt the best way to do it was to integrate nature into the space."

Singapore's hospitals have multiple tiers of hospitals, and that is part of how the country's healthcare is funded. Some hospital rooms are for private payers and have air conditioning, others can have up to five beds and have windows.

According to Chin Po, to make all patients feel as comfortable as possible – no matter who is paying – the design team installed large wide windows that would allow for more airflow and made sure that every patient could see greenery from their beds. Aluminum fins or wing walls were created to push winds into the building for more ventilation.

"We always bring this idea of creating a total healing environment," Chin-Po told MGB, "not just for the patients but for the caregivers and staff as well. It's all part of the whole system."

Organic food for the patients is grown in the massive garden on the roof of the hospital. The rooftop has 100 species of fruit trees, 50 species of vegetables, and 50 species of herbs and is run by volunteers from the community, according to the International Living Future Institute, a nonprofit that supports healthier and sustainable communities. 

Other rooftop gardens were designed for special patient needs. Dementia patients have staff-supervised access to the lush calming Dementia garden near the geriatric clinic.

A 2016 post-occupancy evaluation was conducted for patients, staff, and visitors to find out the effects of greenery on the users' feelings of well-being at KTP and an older conventional hospital. Over 80 percent of the people surveyed said that hospitals should invest in greenery.

The survey also found that 15 percent of the visitors come for social and recreational reasons. KTP has become a healing place for the community, and local residents will buy a cup of coffee from the courtyard and enjoy it in the dozens of gardens on the property.

The International Living Future Institute gave KTP its inaugural Stephen R. Kellert Biophilic Design Award for its commitment to building a space that supports the health of visitors.

"When we first opened in 2010, it came out in the papers that the hospital was a hot spot for students to study for exams," Chin-Po told MGB. "It demonstrated that the environment we created was conducive not just to patients and caregivers but the community at large… You don't feel like you need to go there only when you have a problem."

Studies have proven that patients that experience nature are healthier. Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stress. In Japan,  forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, is used to strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and decrease stress. In Scotland, doctors are giving nature prescriptions for a host of medical conditions.

While replicating KTP would be very difficult - you would need a design structure that supports the terraced gardens and not all climates have the same tropical growing conditions of Singapore - the design team has worked in other countries, including Malaysia, China and Pakistan to build similar spaces that were a good fit for their climate and culture.

It should still be possible for hospitals to green-up there spaces, even if it means adding window gardens and potted plants. Incorporating nature into hospitals has been proven to help to heal. This isn't just a fad; it really is good medicine.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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