Healing with Colour and Light

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Common myths and misconceptions

Colour cosmetics have long been the ‘go-to’ solution for interior design projects across the board and has often been seen as corresponding to certain human emotions. For example, blue can be associated with sadness, yellow with happiness, red with anger or urgency and so on. Despite these commonly accepted ‘facts’, there is inadequate evidence to support such ideas as being universally applicable. If anything, colour association is most consistent amongst subgroups based on religion, nationality, and culture.

The perception of colour is only relevant when considered relative to lighting exposure and conditions, as well as placement amongst other colours. While colour cannot be used to distinctively provoke specific reactions, the benefits of it as part of the healthcare design agenda can be substantially supported. In “Hospital Interior Architecture: Creating Healing Environments For Special Patient Populations”, Jain Malkin argues against the overuse of white in healthcare environments, stating that such bland, monotonous environments prohibit stimulation of the mind, causing sensory deprivation which can be detrimental to healing. She continues to discuss how being immersed in a space of a single colour can create disorienting perceptual conditions that can destabilise or disorient patients. This, of course, means that despite research’s inability to confirm a DIRECT colour to mood association, colour can play a valuable role in comforting ones mental state once it is considered alongside the above-stated parameters.

Basic tips and considerations for colour and light selection

  • Select light bulbs based on the atmospheric effect you are hoping to achieve in a room. For example, the warm, yellow-amber light of Incandescent bulbs will make reds, oranges, and yellows more vivid, while muting blues and greens.
  • Consider the orientation of the room in relation to windows. Natural light is considered as showing ‘true colours’, but will change with the time of day causing colour perception to change with it.

    Colour perception under varying light. Colour and Light. Therapeutic
    Visual colour perception of items in a room under varying lighting conditions
  • A colour swatch selected under ‘ideal’ lighting conditions in a store may look far different when exposed to the natural lighting conditions of a room. A certain red pigment may look vibrant when being purchased but cause a space to feel dark and confined when applied in a different setting.
  • How does this colour look under artificial light? Have all artificial light fixtures for a room in place beforehand. If a room is too be heavily or solely artificially lit (as are many areas in health care centres), the CCT and CRI will be the main determinate in how this colour is viewed through the human eye. Using painted squares of drywall into this space can help determine the type of colour effect that will be achieved.
  • Paint sheen also affects colour. Glossy finishes will reflect light and change the way the colour looks, whereas flat finishes are less reflective and allow colours to look truer under bright light.
  • Consider other colours being used in the room on various other walls or decor. Darker colours such as deep reds and blues will be more appealing if furnishings contrast with lighter and brighter tones. The appearance of a singular colour can change based on colours appearing beside it.
Here's a minimalist illustration by Wikipedia user Dodek. The grey bar across the centre is actually one consistent colour. Colour and Light. Therapeutic
Here’s a minimalist illustration by Wikipedia user Dodek. The grey bar across the centre is actually one consistent colour.


Healing with colour and light

An alternate approach to utilising the calming effects of colour has been promoted by Philips lighting under the same HealWell initiative discussed in the previous article, “Illuminating Healthcare”. The product has been advertised in conjunction with the company’s daylight mimicking lighting system to provide users with the full therapeutic experience of light and colour. This colour lighting system consists of a large luminous LED panel which supplies soft, ambient lighting that can be adjusted according to the patient’s preference. The full HealWell system provides a certain flexibility to patient rooms, allowing them to create a calm and relaxing atmosphere for themselves based on their own individual subjectivity. It is this relationship with light that brings colour closer to becoming a significant player in creating healing environments and playing a role in Evidence-Based Design.


creating therapeutic environments. Colour and Light. Therapeutic.
The Charité Campus Virchow Clinic in Berlin pre HealWell system installation


The Charité Campus Virchow Clinic in Berlin post installation of Philips’’ HealWell luminous LED panels. Colour and Light. Therapeutic
The Charité Campus Virchow Clinic in Berlin post installation of Philips’’ HealWell luminous LED panels

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Michaela Gomes

Graduating class of 2016 from The University of Sheffield’s undergraduate architecture program, Michaela now works as an architectural assistant at MGA inc. with plans of resuming studies for her masters degree in 2018. Her prime interests in the field include humanitarian and social architecture - focusing on the development of communities through people centric design. After obtaining her full qualification she plans on bringing some of these ideas to Barbados in hopes of improving government housing and urbanism in the island. Contact: michaelaangomes@gmail.com

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