Workscapes: Improving a mental health environment

This project uses a new tool to analyse and re-programme workspace to propose improvements to the Mental Health Unit of a large Scottish hospital.

Workscapes is a design framework that uses four urban planning principles - programmable surfaces, landmark objects, points of interest, and circulation/orientation - in conjunction with a qualitative user research process to tailor the design of workspace more closely to people's real needs. It was devised in partner-ship with an industrial consortium, and in its second year of development, it has been tested on two different types of workspace in Scotland.

The first case study proposes a new design strategy for the Mental Health Unit at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert to accommodate an arts programme. Our Scottish partners identified a series of issues with the newly built unit, which is currently characterised by long, featureless corridors, anonymous spaces for staff and patients, underused therapeutic courtyards and perceived noise issues.

A multi-disciplinary research team from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design spent a week in the Mental Health Unit in January 2013, observing and mapping processes, auditing various spaces, and conducting interviews and workshops with patients, nursing staff and consultants. Various tensions – between having a clinical or homely environment, for example – were examined.

Design interventions
Application of the Workscapes planning tool resulted in the proposal of a design strategy to help brief designers and artists to make interventions in the Mental Health Unit to create a greater sense of place, as well as offering the opportunity for a range of meaningful activities for patients.

The interventions can be implemented over time and fall into three key categories. Commissioned artworks create recognisable landmarks that can ease wayfinding, enhance the atmosphere of spaces, offer a greater sense of variety across the different wards and help to modify lighting and acoustics.

Original design features can help to create a series of distinct ward identities, such as Fern Valley and Daffodil Fields, and offer more comfort and variety to patients, staff and visitors.

Design modifications to the existing architecture of the unit are aimed at accommodating an extended arts programme for patients. Overall, the design strategy is intended to ensure that the various interventions implemented over time cohere and help to create a richer environment for all who use the Mental Health Unit.

A second case study adopting the Workscapes framework was undertaken with the Royal Bank of Scotland on its Gogarburn campus in Edinburgh to improve the design of the workplace and support the company's agile working initiative.

See first year of project here

NHS Forth Valley logo
NHS Forth Valley logo

Research Associate 2013: Benjamin Koslowski 

Research Partner: NHS Forth Valley

RCA Department: Architecture

Project Period: 2012 - 2013