Places that Work: A Generative Space

Wilson Hospice House, designed by Perkins + Will, won the 2011 Caritas Project’s Generative Space Award. It is definitely a space that works. The recognition the hospice has received is appropriate because its design has a special psychological effect on the people who spend time there. We need to see more examples of healthcare spaces that work. And so I call your attention to the June 15 deadline for submissions for the 2012 Generative Space Award.

Generative space, as the website explains, satisfies the following criteria: “It improves the health and well-being of all. It improves the performance and effectiveness of the provider organization. It produces systemic and sustainable improvements over time. Improvements are measurable and demonstrate documented evidence substantiating these improvements. It fosters a breadth of improvements ranging from the unique experience of individuals to the establishment of communities that foster health, vitality, and well being.”


Wilson Hospice House is one of those generative spaces. Its patient rooms and common areas are flooded with natural light—this helps to keep circadian rhythms in check and boosts mood. The large windows link those inside to the wooded grounds outside. These nature scenes are welcoming and draw people (at least mentally) into the outdoors, relieving the stress experienced patients, caregivers, and staff. The views help people restock their mental energies.

Patients, even if they are bed-bound, can move outside through the French doors that open to outdoor patios from each room.  Homelike materials are used throughout, making visitors feel welcome. The layout of spaces, particularly in the common ones, and the materials used say, “You’re home.”

A window seat in each patient room doubles as a visitor bed–window seats are one of the stars of biophilic design, an approach that recognizes supportive natural “design practices”; we find places where biophilic design is applied comfortable. People sitting in window seats have a view from a slightly darker space with a lower ceiling out over a more brightly lit space with a higher ceiling (or no ceiling at all). Imagine yourself a human without modern tools sitting in a cave, surveying a nearby valley and you can understand why we have evolved sensory systems that can relax in such a space.

Sally Augustin, PhD, is a principal at Design with Science . She is also the editor of Research Design Connectionsand the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009). She can be reached at

Series Posts: Places that Work

Categories: Healthcare Architecture, Healthcare Interiors, Uncategorized