Healthcare design does not naturally lend itself to the comforts of home. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, much of my own design work has focused on finding elements that evoke home and a sense of well-being.

Pleasant distractions in a welcoming environment can help lower stress and enhance the healing process, according to studies. But how do you bring familiar residential elements into the healthcare environment, especially in cases where patients, or clients, may be staying for three to 12 months? Of course, that may depend on the particular project.

Programming, technology, infrastructure, function, and budget all play into your design choices.

I was recently talking with HGA colleague Kristine Hanson, CID, about her interior design choices for the new Adolescent Treatment Center in Winnebago, Minnesota, for United Hospital District. Designed by HGA as a short-term-stay rehabilitation center for teenagers with chemical/alcohol additions, the Treatment Center easily sidesteps the typical “institutional” feel.

The 20,000-square-foot, single-story facility picks up on the area’s agrarian architecture and landscape. Gabled architectural forms with cedar siding, pitched roofs, and traditional windows establish a familiar residential—rather than clinical—setting for teenagers undergoing treatment.

The residential character carries inside, as well, where soothing earth tones, exposed beamed ceilings, wheat-board paneling, and stained concrete floors establish a decidedly lodge-like feel in the common spaces. Interior planning creates three distinct zones—an academic zone with classrooms, group rooms, and gymnasium; a staff zone with offices, private conference space, and staff lounge; and a residential zone with a living room and sleeping rooms that include built-in wardrobes, private bathrooms, and large windows overlooking the landscape. Clear wayfinding connects the zones.

Architecturally, the facility sits comfortably with the adjacent residential neighborhood. Teenage clients might not immediately recognize it as a rehabilitation center—and that, of course, is the idea.

So does the design lower stress? Are teenagers more open to treatment and healing in this lodge-like setting?

Because the Treatment Center just opened this fall, we don’t have all the answers. We plan to return to this project in a year for a post-occupancy study. Our research may help illuminate the effectiveness of our design decisions.

This, like so many projects, is an opportunity to research design choices that can have a positive impact on emotion—and healing.

Stay tuned.