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Dan DeWeese
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H(Art)ealth

SSM St. Mary’s Hospital – Jefferson City, MO.  A carefully curated collection of artwork throughout the facility evokes of sense of healing and spirituality. Near the main visitor entry, the curved mosaic (Right) serves as a marker for wayfinding, encourages movement with its curve, stimulates the mind through its message to help set the tone for visitors and evokes a healing presence in the facility.

Art is often considered with such a wide breadth of scope that it is left undefined. I think that is a good thing. Art can take all sorts of forms, media, and manifestations, and evoke all sorts of reactions in those who experience it. Simon Sinek, optimist and author, discusses art in his talk titled “The why in creative work” with an audience and explains his definition for “art” that I like. He postulates that since so many of us believe that art defies definition, instead, for something to be considered art it should pass a series of tests. The tests are intention, display and reception. Art must be created with the intention to be art by the artist. It must be displayed in a setting to be experienced as art. It should be received as art by the viewer. Without any of those qualities, the work should not qualify as art.

Art has a unique ability to connect with many different senses and through many different avenues with those who experience it. It can set a mood, create a sense of calm or excitement, encourage nurturing relationships, or instill a sense of wonder and amazement.

Art and architecture often go hand in hand, evoking many of same emotions and benefits to those who experience it. Architects curate every detail, finish, corner, view and the building itself with an artistic story, so we can beneficially use art in design for the betterment of the occupants.

Here are six positive ways to feature art in design:

  1. Use art to establish “place”

Culturally specific relevant topics help to create a sense of belonging to a community. Works produced by local artists give pride and capture the essence of a location. This feeling can be experienced by users and visitors, giving them a better sense of belonging to a locale and fostering a healthy culture or connection to the place. Consider subjects of prominence visitors are familiar with, capture the local population, and encourage using materials specific to a place.

  1. Use art as wayfinding

Art with strong identifying characteristics helps identify an area of a project. Use a specific color or material to differentiate significant markers along the way to a destination. Theming zones of the overall projects help users find their way through.

  1. Use art to encourage movement

Striking, visually stimulating items in corridors, stairwells, etc. can encourage users to walk or take the stairs. Establishing a vista at the end of long walk by using a view or artwork makes the trip seem shorter and easier to accomplish.

Corridor at St. Mary’s Hospital painted a unique color to establish wayfinding. Artwork is placed along the length to encourage movement while the subjects establish a positive and cheerful emotive experience. Artwork on each floor is related to the unique color used and emotional experience. (i.e. blue color, subjects-sky, water, etc.)

  1. Use art to stimulate the mind

Allow moments of respite, and wonder while viewing the art. This allows the brain to take a break and admire the beauty and emotion of the works.

  1. Use art for energy

Art communicates a feeling. Positive or negative, calm or exciting. Integrating these qualities with the design can help to establish the occupant’s mood or morale based on what is desired from a specific organization’s message or culture.

  1. Use art to heal the body

Studies have shown for decades that in patient care areas, occupants heal faster when exposed to an exterior view of nature. Art can be utilized in conjunction with views to enhance this healing effect. Focus on a particular view moment in a building or supplement with additional pieces.

This patient room at St. Mary’s Hospital. Artwork is minimal. It was intentionally reduced to simple graphics with the focus placed on the spectacular views from each room to promote connection to nature and a healing effect.

Healthy Building standards have begun to understand the importance and multi-faceted ways art can affect users. The WELL standard, which focuses specifically on occupant health and well-being, has established credit towards its certification through the implementation of art. It provides design criteria and requirements to help create beautiful, healthy spaces. To achieve this credit, consult your design team to provide a narrative around how art can be displayed in the building and tell its unique story. 

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