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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Curtis, S., Gesler, W., Fabian, K., Francis, S. & Priebe, S. Therapeutic landscapes in hospital design: a qualitative assessment by staff and service users of the design of a new mental health inpatient unit. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy. 2007;25:591-610.

Author(s) from Durham


This pilot research project sought to provide a postoccupation assessment of a new mental health inpatient unit in East London, built under the Private Finance Initiative scheme. Qualitative discussion groups or unstructured interviews were used to explore the views of people who had been service users (but were currently well) and of nursing staff and consultants working in the new hospital. The participants gave their views on the aspects of the hospital which were beneficial or detrimental to well-being and the reasons for their views. Informants discussed hospital design in terms of: (1) respect and empowerment for people with mental illness; (2) security and surveillance versus freedom and openness; (3) territoriality, privacy, refuge, and social interactions; (4) homeliness and contact with nature; (5) places for expression and reaffirmation of identity, autonomy, and consumer choice; and (6) integration into sustainable communities. Themes emerging from this research were interpreted in light of ideas from geographical research on therapeutic landscapes constituted as physical, social, and symbolic spaces, as well as research from environmental psychology. The findings have practical implications for hospital design and underline the need to consider empowerment of patients in decisions over hospital design. We note the challenges involved in determining therapeutic hospital design given changing models of care in psychiatry, lack of consensus over models of care, and the varying and somewhat conflicting requirements these imply for the physical, social, and symbolic attributes of design of hospital spaces. We also note the implications of our findings for an interpretation of therapeutic landscapes as contested spaces.

Department of Geography