Colour Design in Healthcare Environments


Fiona McLachlan
University of Edinburgh


Portfolio, Practice based, colour, architecture, healthcare


This portfolio documents two related pratice-led, colour research projects at the Royal Edinburgh Mental Health Hospital. This practice-led colour research employed architectural design knowledge and emerging on-site evidence to devise colour schemes and to make site-specific wall paintings within shared areas and circulation spaces. Project 1 took place in ‘Pentland’ dementia ward from February 2017 – February 2018, and Project 2 involved the main corridor and Andrew Duncan Clinic reception area from April – November 2019. Although guidance is available for care homes and hospitals, it appears to be applied often without professional design input that can take into account light conditions, views in and out, and the social and cultural setting. Observations included monitoring the sun path, light quality, and room usage. Hand sketches were effective in communicating the conceptual ideas with large test panels of candidate paint colours. Newsletters at regular intervals kept staff, visitors and carers informed of the project and invited questions. Two themes emerged, namely ‘destinations’ and ‘directions’. Carers emphasised a need for spaces that are more homely and sophisticated, and small places within the circulation areas where patients can sit with their relatives. Feedback from the users indicated that a strong red and patterned wall panel seemed to act as a beacon and be sufficiently memorable to direct the patients at the most confusing intersections. Incidents (conflicts and arguments) were substantially reduced since the installation. Patients would sit with relatives in the circulation areas, as well as within private rooms. Staff reported that the dispersal of the patients around the ward may have diffused tensions, and therefore reduced the number of incidents between patients and staff. The work has been disseminated through peer-reviewed written output while the colour design is experienced on a daily basis by the hospital community. The projects have been disseminated through academic outputs that challenge the prevailing ‘tick box’ approach to the use of colour in health care environments.

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2 May 2024


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Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.