Introducing healing gardens

- How natural space design promotes healthy universities at HKU
Prof. Stephen Lau

into a compact university campus

Department of Architecture The University of Hong Kong

Table of Contents:
• A general framework of Healthy Universities • Objective of the research • Natural spaces and their mental health benefits - A green design approach to realize healthy universities • Applicability of healing garden concept to HKU campus • Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU

A general framework of Healthy Universities
Definition of health
– A state of complete physical, social and mental wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity

A resource for everyday life, not the object of living. It is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities [2] .

[1] As defined by the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) [2] As defined by the World Federation for Mental Health,

Healthy university promotion framework

Six objectives forming a healthy university promoting agenda
(Dooris, 1998)

Objective of the research
– From the viewpoint of campus planning and architecture, the authors are specifically interested in the objectives of creating health promoting and sustainable physical environment. In an attempt to explore this objective in the context of universities in Hong Kong, this research focuses on the design of campus green space and its potential role in creating a health-supportive and sustainable campus environment.

Natural spaces and their mental health benefits
Natural settings as a restorative environment: a theoretical perspective
– – – Natural settings help to recover from directed attention fatigue. A typical example of directed attention fatigue is the state of mind of students at the end of a semester. Nature settings meet the four requirements for a restorative environment (Kaplan, 1995): • Being away • Fascination • Extent • Compatibility

Natural spaces and their mental health benefits
Empirical findings: Natural view and mental distress recovery
– A study on college dormitory window view gives evidence that a natural view is beneficial for the attention restorative effects of students. (Tennessen and
Cimprich, 1995)

• • •

A study on the influence of window view on recovery of surgery has showed that, patients in rooms with windows looking out on a natural scene had : shorter postoperative hospital stays received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses' notes and took fewer potent analgesics than those with windows facing a brick building wall. (Ulrich, 1984)

Natural spaces as Healing gardens
What is a healing garden?
– – A garden “should contain prominent amounts of real nature content such as green vegetation, flowers, and water.” And by labeling a garden a “healing” one, “the garden should have therapeutic or beneficial effects on the great majority of its users.” (Ulrich, 1999)

Cloister Garden of Lincoln Cathedral (

A modern healing garden: Duke University Medical Center (

How does a healing garden foster mental recovery process?
– Based on research in the behavior sciences and literature review of garden design, Ulrich argued that healing gardens offer the following listed resources (Ulrich, 1999): • • • • – Sense of control and access to privacy Social support Physical movement and exercise Access to nature and other positive distractions

So it is justified to believe that gardens in healthcare settings are capable of ameliorating stress recovery and probably other health outcomes.

Designing guidelines of Healing Gardens
– – – Offer a sense of security and control Provide various space patterns Install sufficient plants and water features

A clear, easy-to-cognize pattern, is helpful to set up a sense of control over the surroundings and safety feeling. (

Planting bed provides transition between public gathering area at right and more intimate seating area at left. (Illustrartion by M. Furgeson)

Various plant species and water feature in Lily Pond, HKU

Designing guidelines of Healing Gardens
Special concerns in a high density context like Hong Kong
– – – Select and locate trees to bring down the scale of surroundings Vertical greenery or water curtain to soften hard boundaries Use trees with tall trucks, narrowly-spread canopies to provide green outlook from upper windows of nearby high rise buildings

Tree to bring down scales of Green wall in Paley pocket park in New tall buildings York ( (

narrowly-spread and loose canopies do not block view from upper floors(

Applying healing garden concept to university campus
General usage pattern of campus green open space
• Stay: Venue for activities like sunbath • Trespassing: landscaped pathways • To see and enjoy: Visual enhancement of surrounding windows and paths

Activities on a college lawn (Wang & Ouyang. Ltd.)

Trespassing Lily pond (Wang & Ouyang. Ltd.)

View into colorful garden in Japan (

Existing green open space in HKU: design and usage pattern
Compact campus with limited open spaces
Main Building quartet courtyards

Lily pond

HKU main campus today (Source: Wang&Ouyang Ltd.)

Eliot Hall terrace

Natural space usage pattern
• Small in size, not encouraging large groups of people to access/stay • One important function : to bring natural view to surrounding paths and windows, to enhance the psychological effect (stress attenuation, attention restoration, etc.)
- Possible reasons: hot and humid climate / insects / limited green space / lack of facilities/ busy study and little spare time…

Healing gardens are suitable for HKU campus
• The compact HKU campus can not accommodate wide and grandiose green open spaces commonly found in other universities in the world. • In contrary, natural settings in the form of courtyard gardens, atrium gardens and other similar types are suitable for the high density compact campus. • In this scenario, the concept of healing gardens would be very useful and can be an important reference to the natural space design in HKU. • it is helpful that all the fragments of natural pieces within HKU be systematic planned and designed as an integrated garden network. • By borrowing healing garden concept in HKU green space design, it is possible to enhance users’ mental health and well-being.

Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU
The main and centennial campus planning, HKU (Wang &Ouyang)

Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU
1. Enhance visual connections of the healing gardens and their surroundings
Enhance view from surrounding rooms:
maximize window viewing from surrounding windows, provide visual buffers (shrubbery for instance) where necessary to guarantee access of privacy, mitigate a feeling of being in a “fish bowl”.

(Wang &Ouyang)

Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU
2. Space morphology and user perception
Configuration of an open space could have an impact on occupants’ psychological feelings. One of the indexes indicating the characteristics of an urban space is aspect ratio (D/H, D = width of the space; H: height of the building flanking the space). D/H>1 open and spacious feeling Aspect ratio of courtyards in centennial campus D/H<1 oppressive feelings D/H=1 a critical turning point 3 < D/H < 4 (Ashihara, 1983)


Aspect ratio of courtyards in the Main Building

Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU
2. Space morphology and user perception
Some revisions: • enlarge the courtyard dimension in the S-N orientation • combining two or all the three courtyards as one courtyard

Latest centennial campus design by Wang & Ouyang and Sasaki, the previous three courtyards were revised to two.

Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU
3. Suggestion on designing the two courtyards: a meditation garden and an event garden
Meditation garden: • surrounded by library and reading rooms. the theme is tranquility. • composed of several enclosed subspaces • greenery buffering zones to be designed for better privacy; surrounded by library reading rooms with access into the garden; • quiet water features; relatively dense vegetation canopy Event garden: • close to the entry or lobby of the complex, is proposed to play a more public role • less greenery and more hard paving • jet of fountain is preferred to create some background sound • One side open to cafeteria or tea house to enhance usage of the garden

Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU
Case study of meditation gardens

Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU
Case study of Event gardens PlazaCourtyard.jpg Aquinas Campus courtyard (

Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU
4. Choose the right plant species
- Balance aesthetic, ecological and health consideration (climatic concern, ecology, native or non-native) - Native and non-native Why use exotic plants: aesthetic reason Non-native plants cause several problems • Use more water and require more maintenance work • Some will monopolize the local resources • Disrupt local bio-cycle

Therapeutic natural space design strategy at HKU
5. Green roof / wall as alternative for a compact campus
sky / roof gardens in the centennial campus design similar features should be introduced to the main campus

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