Stress Reduction through Biomimetic Designs in the Interior Architecture of a Dental Office

Presented by: Candie Wilcken, Saleh Kalantari, Judy Theodorson

Research Goals and Background This design project involves the creation and evaluation of parametrically designed ceiling installations as a means of reducing stress and anxiety in dental examination rooms. The installations take a biomimetic approach, following a trend that has in recent years become a renewed source of inspiration for designers and architects as we seek to apply principles from natural systems to promote human and environmental well-being (Rossin, 2010). The value of biological research in design is that nature, through necessity and evolution, has already created elegant solutions to many of the same physical and environmental problems that designers encounter during the course of our work (Flint, 2013). In addition, as humans are ourselves the products of natural environments, the design solutions forged through biomimicry tend to have a “natural” and comforting aspect. Some researchers argue that biomimicry is more than just imitating the useful attributes of a natural object or system, and that these approaches have deep-seated connections with human sensibilities and our ecological connections to nature (El-Zeiny, 2012). While such viewpoints are inspirational, a rigorous evaluation of biomimetic designs also requires the collection of scientific evidence regarding their effects. In this sense, the trend toward evidence-based design in healthcare is also a guiding principle in this project (Malkin, 2007). Studies have shown that visits to medical facilities can be quite stressful for patients, and there is a specific association between human stress levels and the physical environment of hospitals (Ulrich, Ximring, Quan, Joseph, & Choudhary, 2004). Many researchers are currently working on ways to ameliorate this concern, but the design of ceilings is one factor that is often overlooked. Ceiling design is particularly important in contexts where patients may often be laying on their backs during exams, looking at the ceiling, as is typically the case in dental offices. Research Methods The project consists of three phases: design, fabrication, and evaluation. In the design phase biological research, biomimicry case studies, and computational form generation will be used as a basis for creating a novel ceiling texture. This design will be environmentally responsive, meaning that its form will gradually and dynamically change in a natural fashion. In the second phase, the ceiling installation will be built using digital fabrication, and it will be assembled and installed on-site at a dental facility. The dental office used in this study has two examination rooms with identical layouts and equipment, as well as nearly identical views to the outside environment. The ceiling installation will be assembled in one of the two rooms, with the other left in its current condition as a control. In the third phase, the effects of the biomimetic installation will be tested using post-occupancy evaluation techniques, including surveys and observation. Patient stress levels will be measured through both self-reporting and non-invasive physical tests. Outcomes The results of this study will contribute to the empirical literature on biomimetic design and will help in the development of more soothing medical examination rooms. The use of evidence-based design to improve healthcare outcomes is currently a very active field of study, but the effect of ceiling textures is a factor that has not been widely examined. The current study will help to fill that gap by gathering evidence that can ultimately lead to better experiences for patients and healthcare workers.

References:

  • El-Zeiny, R. M. (2012). Biomimicry as a problem solving methodology in interior architecture. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 50, 502–512.
  • Flint, R. W. (2013). Practice of sustainable community development: A participatory framework for change. New York: Springer.
  • Malkin, J. (2007). Reflections on healing environments and evidence-based design. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 1(1), 26–28.
  • Rossin, K. J. (2010). Biomimicry: Nature’s design process versus the designer’s process. Design and Nature, 5, 559–569.
  • Ulrich, R., Zimring, C., Quan, X., Joseph, A., & Choudhary, R. (2004). Role of the physical environment in the hospital of the 21st century. Concord, CA: The Center for Health Design.