In this column, Healthcare Design asks design professionals to share a recent project their firm has completed for another sector that might inspire similar solutions in healthcare. Here, Sharron van der Meulen, interior designer and partner at ZGF Architects (Portland, Ore.), discusses how reducing stress while managing high traffic volumes drives both airport and healthcare design.

The parallels between healthcare and airport design are numerous, and I’ve been fortunate to work in both typologies. Perhaps one of the most obvious is that both are high-stress environments serving people of all ages and abilities who have varying levels of familiarity with the space and processes in place. In addition, both support a high volume of employees who need to be considered in the design approach just as much as the patient or passenger.

For a project at the Portland International Airport in Portland, Ore., we’re drawing inspiration from our beautiful Pacific Northwest surroundings and prioritizing daylight, landscape, and natural materials to evoke a sense of place and reduce stress for the thousands of passengers and employees who travel through the main terminal daily.

Both industries spend a lot of time thinking about how patients or passengers are processed and ways to make that the most convenient and fluid experience possible. Circulation strategies consider ways to establish a clear sense of arrival with parking and drop-off, leverage technology to enable quick check-in, improve wait times, and develop wayfinding so that people know what to do next and how to get there.

Additionally, airports have similar needs as hospitals in terms of controlled access for safety and sterile areas. Design drivers for both include clearly defined paths of access for levels of security, materials management, and public circulation. Guidelines for infection control in healthcare projects also have influenced the selection and use of materials in airport design, such as solid surfaces on horizontal countertops and vertical wall applications as well as stainless-steel and copper hardware for their antimicrobial benefits.

Interested in sharing a Design Inspiration with Healthcare Design? Email Executive Editor Anne DiNardo at for submission guidelines.