Natural ventilation was common in healthcare facilities for a long time before mechanical systems became the standard. Now, with a growing focus on resiliency and the importance of connections to the outdoors, its re-emergence is gaining momentum, with facilities like Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital installing operable windows at its Boston facility.

Building scientist Alejandra Menchaca and architect Megan Van Der Linde of Payette Associates Inc. (Boston) want to drive the conversation further in the hopes that 20 years from now, natural ventilation will be the norm once again.

“Just like we look back at concrete buildings that are terribly inefficient from an energy standpoint, we’ll look back and say, ‘Yes, we used to build buildings without operable windows,’” says Menchaca.

The two will discuss the challenges and opportunities of using natural ventilation in hospitals during a session at the 2015 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference, Nov. 14-17, in Washington, D.C. They say among the reasons for considering operable windows are the ability to provide ventilation during power outages and bringing natural light, air, and sounds into a healthcare setting. There’s also the potential cost benefits associated with energy savings—a goal the speakers say is harder to achieve in the U.S. based on current codes.

“In Europe, it’s more of a cultural thing where patients are given blankets to cover up when it’s a little cooler outside, and there’s more flexibility in terms of thermal comfort,” Menchaca says. “At that point, you can use natural ventilation much more and you could even start seeing energy savings.”

To gauge current attitudes on the topic, the speakers are conducting a survey with healthcare designers, engineers, staff, administrators, and building operators to identify the current limitations and opportunities in providing operable windows in multiple areas of a healthcare setting. They plan to share the findings at the conference in the hopes of addressing those issues and moving the industry’s thinking forward.

“We try to go back and realize operable windows were there [in healthcare facilities] for a very long time,” Menchaca says. “So the fact that people did not die because the window was open is a powerful fact.”

To participate in the survey, go to For more on the Healthcare Design Expo & Conference, including session descriptions, networking events, and registration details, visit

Alejandra Menchaca       Megan Van Der Linde