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Grounded art: Flooring in healthcare spaces increases in creativity and impact

July 31, 2019

By Lynn Befu, Laurena Clark and Ena Kenny

The right flooring choices can help with wayfinding, healing, and level of comfort

Flooring in a healthcare environment quite literally occupies every square foot of the facility. It is key in making a first, second, and even third impression as patients and staff make their way through the hospital—giving a sense of comfort, cleanliness, and quality. Our team recognizes what’s happening in healthcare flooring right at our feet.

A healing environment

The creation of a healing environment may not be a new trend, but it is now fully embraced by the industry as an ongoing goal. We are seeing more healthcare facilities incorporating standards like LEED and WELL to create a truly comprehensive healing environment. More attention is being paid to the environmental aspects of flooring. We now look for it to be more than just aesthetically pleasing, durable, and easily cleaned—the focus is also on the production, maintenance, and disposal of flooring.

Florida Hospital for Women in Orlando, Florida.

In flooring, biophilic references abound. More and more wood-look options have come on the market, not just in PVC but also in wood-look linoleum and rubber flooring. These can be more seamlessly integrated with other flooring types than in previous years, contributing to a feeling of warmth and homelike spaces in a healthcare facility.  In other instances, not only references to wood, but also to water, contribute to a sense of biophilia in both pattern and color. For example, in the Florida Hospital for Women, curving patterns and water-like colors call to mind the flow and movement of water and streams in patient corridors and in the lobby.

As patients and visitors make their way through a maze of hospital hallways, the need for wayfinding is key in creating a safe and comforting environment.

Enhancing wayfinding

As patients and visitors make their way through a maze of hospital hallways, the need for wayfinding is key in creating a safe and comforting environment. These wayfinding markers are often incorporated into the facility theme. At the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre in Hamilton, Ontario, floor patterning was used to reinforce the biophilic theme “journey, discovery, connection.” Flooring in corridors and waiting areas had to be noticeable, yet concentrated in key locations, so as not to visually impede the flow of circulation. Oval and round shapes, found in nature, were repeated at various scales and in various ways throughout the building. The patterns were not just cut into the linoleum flooring but also echoed in the shapes and layouts of some furniture, ring-shaped luminaires, patterns on wall coverings and upholstery, and penny tile backsplashes, to name a few.

Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre in Hamilton, Ontario.

We repeated similar floor patterning throughout the building. The neutral floor color is highlighted with accents coordinated with the color theme for each of the four stories—yellow on the first floor, which houses prosthetics and orthotics fabrication spaces and clinics, and orange on the second floor for developmental rehab spaces. On these “active” floors the colors are warmer and more energizing. Soft purples on the third floor and pale blues on the fourth floor create calmer, cooler palettes for the mental health and autism spectrum disorders spaces.

In carpeted areas of the building, mainly administrative spaces with open office plans, a collaborative zone was created along the windowed perimeter of each of these spaces. We clearly delineated that zone not just with space planning and furniture layouts but also by the carpet flooring. Seen from above, the three different carpet tiles create a distinct band, resembling a shoreline. 

Creating a cohesive environment for children

Hospital spaces for children take special care when designing a place for them to feel safe and hopeful. SickKids PlayPark in Toronto, Ontario, is a whimsical space for children visiting clinics and for the siblings of young patients. The floor pattern adds color and fun to the space, which was designed to inspire different behaviors. In the hospital setting, children are indoors for long periods of time, so encouraging as much physical play as possible was a priority. Here the floor patterns create different landscapes and zones for kids within a small overall space of just 1,250 square feet.

The different colors and patterns of dots were meant to encourage hopping around but also to highlight destinations within the space where kids can stop and observe.  When we learned the existing glass block wall was a favorite spot to stand and look down at the loading dock, we reworked the design and highlighted the prime viewing spot by adding a cutout in the millwork and a bright green dot on the floor. In another area, wood flooring wraps right up the wall and onto the ceiling, to enclose the dress-up and performance “stage”—setting it apart from the rest of the room.

SickKids PlayPark in Toronto, Ontario.

Floor patterns that resemble shade below the canopies of the “trees” above create a sense of being in a forest. The floor patterns also supported other types of play in unexpected ways as we noticed kids setting up bowling pins on them and corralling small plastic animals in and around the dots

Given what we were trying to fit into this small space, we kept with light airy warm white walls as a backdrop to highlight and display the children’s creations and art. There was opportunity for the flooring pattern to be bright and prominent in the space, which ended up balancing out very well. We were thrilled to watch how the kids responded to the space when it first opened, and the flooring really played an integral role in supporting the goals for the project and design intent.

Highlighting what’s below

What once was an afterthought—flooring—has increasingly played an integral role in medical design. Artful flooring patterns create a sense of place, serve as a helpful wayfinding tool, and even aid in branding. Flooring will continue to evolve in creating and optimizing healing—from the ground up.

This blog first appeared in Medical Construction & Design.

  • Lynn Befu

    For over 30 years, Lynn has been integrating interior design and architecture.

    Contact Lynn
  • Laurena Clark

    An interior designer with a keen focus on how her ideas connect with end users. Laurena leads healthcare projects and collaborates with professionals and clients on the best ways to deliver on a vision.

    Contact Laurena
  • Ena Kenny

    Ena creates supportive and patient-centered environments, placing an emphasis on design for mental health and senior-friendly design. Her imaginative work is grounded by her ability to draw out the needs and concerns of client user groups.

    Contact Ena
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