Why are hospitals white?

Cooper Hospital, Camden, NJ
Cherry Hill Mall, Cherry Hill, NJ

Why are hospitals white?  Take Cooper Hospital in Camden, NJ, its lobby is all white and six miles down the road is Cherry Hill Mall, also with a stark white interior.  How could a hospital and a shopping mall have the same exact color palette?  White floors, white walls, ebony wood accents and LED color accent lighting. Could this be a design trend?

Designed by two different architects, but with the same aesthetic, both firms must be reading the same interior design magazines.  While both buildings are good architecture with high caliber design it is disturbing that there are so similar in their look and feel.  Shouldn’t a hospital be more welcoming with a warmer color palette than the cold, sterile and institutional feel of white?   Throughout history, hospitals and mental health facilities were traditionally sterile, white and or pale green and evoked all the feeling and hospitality of a government institutional building.   

However, in the last twenty years there has been a push to inform design with research based, and results oriented evidence. This starts to remove design from the whim of the designer.  Called Evidence Based Design or EBD, there is actual research into what colors actually promote the feeling of comfort and wellness, and not surprisingly they are not white.  Rather they are natural hues including beiges and other neutral colors with accents such as warm woods, ochers, blues and greens.  In her book Hospital Interior Architecture Jain Malkin describes the psychology of color and its application in creating healing environments.

Bottom Line:   Hospitals deserve a rigorous design process, one based on research and fact rather than one based on the latest design fashion.

Photograph of Cooper Hospital from Litecontrol website, Barry Halkin photographer.

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