Main image: External courtyard creates a feeling of contemplation, embrace, and protection without necessarily disengaging from the surroundings.

b4 Architects recently designed the new Assisted Ward at Life Hunterscraig Private Hospital in Port Elizabeth. They follow a design philosophy, which draws on understanding their client’s objectives and needs, as well as workshopping ideas with the client. The b4 team is intimately focused on achieving the best design solution, to suit their client’s needs without compromising budget and time frames.

Life Hunterscraig Hospital: Assisted Ward: A biophilic design case study

What is biophilia?

It is the innate connection between humans and nature. Therefore, certain feelings are evoked through natural elements, e.g., crackling fires, crashing waves and animal companionship. Biophilic design principles have been deemed a new necessary complementary study in addressing workplace stress, performance, and in healthcare design, patient recovery.

Enhancing people’s lives in the built environment

This creation of nature-health relationships enhances our lives through connecting with nature. Biophilic design patterns can be used to improve health and well-being in the built environment, as it mimics the feeling we get from experiencing nature.

This can be psychological and/or physiological:

  • Psychological health and well-being refer to our emotions and moods and how experiences in natural environments provide emotional restoration.
  • Physiological health and well-being are the overall physical comfort and how connections with nature can alter physiological responses.

Biophilic design categories

There are three biophilic design categories.:

  • Nature in space: The direct, physical and transient presence of nature in a space or place by using plants, water, animals, sounds and scents.
  • Natural analogues: Organic and non-living elements of nature and the feelings they provoke are achieved through mimicking objects, materials, colours, shapes, sequences and patterns found in nature, which can be translated into artwork, ornamentation, décor and textiles in the built environment.
  • Nature of the space: Replicating spatial configurations found in nature in the built environment.

Specialised treatment at Life Hunterscraig Private Hospital

Located in Port Elizabeth, Life Hunterscraig Private Hospital is a short-term psychiatric hospital treating predominantly anxiety disorders, depression and substance dependence. Therapeutic programmes are available and conducted in small groups.

Biophilic design used in the décor

Biophilic design was implemented in the design of treatment spaces to relieve cognitive fatigue, often experienced by the patient during one-on-one treatment sessions. Introducing scenes of real nature over simulated nature helps an individual to shift focus, which relaxes the eye muscles and tempers cognitive fatigue.

It was implemented as follows:

  • Utilising the views of Baakens Valley and the wildlife beyond from the therapeutic spaces.
  • Biodiversity of the external environment experienced.
  • Allow orientation to time of day and weather conditions.

Intertwining nature and interior

Creating interior spaces with a view of nature feels whole, as it can engage with an individual and provide a sense of place (with reference to the weather, time and other living things). Spatial layouts and furnishings were designed to uphold desired view lines when standing or seated.

Areas of reflection and pause were included in the design, allowing patients to see and hear wildlife, to provide distraction and evoke a physiological experience that restores as it stimulates and energises the user.

Using visual stimuli for stress recovery

These viewing scenes of nature stimulate a larger portion of the visual cortex in the brain, which triggers more pleasure receptors in the brain and in turn leads to prolonged interest and faster stress recovery.

The linking of the internal and external spaces has been accentuated by the inclusion of a pergola-like structure internally, drawing the user’s eye to the outside. The pergola creates a diffused lighting effect as the sun moves from the morning to the evening, creating a sense of drama internally, simulating natural conditions of lighting in nature.

Within the bed wards, patients are given the opportunity to regulate the extent of daylight and customise their individual lighting requirements.

Air movement to mimic nature

Subtle changes in the air temperature, humidity and airflow to mimic natural environments were incorporated by thermal and airflow variability.

Material connection to nature

The materials and elements found in nature were used to create spaces that are richer, warmer and more authentic. The existing interior design of the building incorporates soft wooden accents set against spaces infused with light. To promote the historical nature of the building, the parquet floors from the main passage space were drawn into the main circulation routes of the ward. The parquet was triple sealed for hygiene purposes. Together with this, a light, mottled vinyl finish, which feels warmer underfoot, was introduced.

Other smaller hints at material finishes include:

  • Deep sea-green feature elements which ties to the significance of colour in the space.
  • Wood imitation tiling features at the basins, which can often be perceived as clinical in appearance.
  • Formica inserts in joinery items, mimicking natural wooden furniture, whilst maintaining durability.

Open-plan design

The design has an unobstructed view over a large distance. Viewpoints were created to allow the user to survey the surrounding landscape. Interior design allows the viewer to see from one space to another. The open-plan configuration creates a feeling of safety and control.

Due to the nature of patients and the risks that they pose to themselves and others, it was important to create areas of refuge or breakaway spaces, while still maintaining visual continuity by the nursing staff. A place of refuge feels safe from the surrounding environment – creating a feeling of contemplation, embrace and protection without necessarily disengaging from the surroundings. This was created with an external courtyard, where the nursing staff still maintains a direct line of sight. CCTV camera’s are also strategically placed to assist in patient monitoring.

Within the bed wards themselves, beds have been positioned in such a way that larger items of furniture (such as clothing cupboards) create separate areas for patients to identify as their own. The inclusion of a shelf over the beds creates the opportunity for patients to customise their space with sentimental items (which engenders a feeling of comfort), whilst providing a lower overhead plane signifying the exclusivity of spaceb4 Architects encourages interaction and participation by all staff in the creative process of deriving a solution for their clients and strives to provide an informative experience for their visiting clients. By using the Building Information Modelling (BIM) systems, they have the latest generation software and equipment available, with Revit 2022 for modelling and Lumion 11.5 as a visualisation tool, to help in the early design process.

For more information, contact b4 Architects:
Tel: +21 41 581 1217 or +27 76 981 1974 or +27 83 270 8260
Email: or

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