The Healing Environment at Tokyu Hospital

In 2012, the Global Burden of Disease Study named Japan the healthiest country in the world. Since the ranking was published, healthcare professionals and designers of healthcare facilities have begun turning to the Japanese for pointers on designing hospitals and neighborhoods that promote long and healthy living. Even with the nation’s relatively low per capita expenditure on health, Japan enjoys high quality health services in medical facilities that are designed to treat and promote health among community members. Tokyu Hospital is an example of innovative Japanese healthcare design that maximizes the use of nature, open courtyards, and plazas to create a healing environment for patients, staff, and local community members.

Located in Ōta ward in the city of Tokyo, Tokyu Hospital was completed in 2007 and today remains the only hospital in Japan ever to be built above a train station. In a city that relies heavily on trains as a form of transportation, the Hospital’s location above the Ōokayama Station, along with its well-planned streets that are outfitted with dedicated bike lanes and drop curbs, maximize its accessibility to residents from all neighborhoods of the city.

In order to respond to the local climate issues of noise, vibrations, and electromagnetic radiation from the train station, architect Yasuda Koichi designed a stunning green façade that wraps the building. The unmistakable green ivy not only creates a barrier between the patients and the train station, but also mimics the vegetated hills that once dominated Ōokayama. Paying homage to the original landscape of the area, the green wall ultimately ensures that every patient in the hospital has a view of plants. Providing close contact with nature is a key healing strategy for Japanese hospitals faced with high levels of acute and long-term patients. A study published in Science found that patients in rooms with views of trees, reported to have a more positive recovery from surgery than those with a view of a brick wall. The emotional and physiological benefits of exposure to nature have also been extensively studied in other settings like the workplace, where reduced stress has often been associated with views of nature. Fortunately for patients at Tokyu Hospital, each patient also has access to balcony space, garden courtyards, and a public plaza. These items give patients the opportunity to come into direct contact with plants and sunlight, which has been shown to have the strongest association with stress reduction and improved health.

The increased access to nature and community spaces play an equally important role in providing the staff of Tokyu hospital and local Ōta-ku residents with spaces to congregate and de-stress. The public plaza fronting the hospital and Ōokayama Station features comfortable, inclusive benches that are low enough for use by the elderly and disabled. At an arm’s length away from convenience stores, and food options, the plaza is also a popular lunch spot for hospital staff, students, and nearby residents, who are often observed enjoying lunch in the canopy of trees. Both the trees and the green façade of Tokyu hospital enhance the comfort of the public plaza by creating a cooling effect on the otherwise concrete- and asphalt-dominated area.

In addition to Tokyu Hospital’s remarkable design, it also provides localized programming and events. The hospital holds regular public lectures and clinical surveys, providing preventive medicine to many of the neighboring residents. These public classes help community residents tackle health issues in day-to-day life. Locals seeking help in medical areas not covered by the hospital are often referred to the numerous nearby medical facilities and clinics. These facilities along with Tokyu Hospital create a medical hub for locals.

Tokyu Hospital clearly demonstrates the need to balance the increasingly high technology of medical equipment with facility design and programming that creates a therapeutic environment and treat patients in a holistic manner. The extensive use of nature to positively affect patients’ rates of recovery and wide offering of community-based programs has shifted the hospital’s role towards prevention and wellness. Communities have begun to feel the consequences of increased rates of chronic diseases with increases in the length of time spent in the hospital. As such, hospital design needs to respond accordingly with effective healing environments that lower patient stress and public amenities that directly address local health concerns.

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    The green ivy façade of Tokyu Hospital pays homage to the original landscape of Ōokayama while ensuring a therapeutic natural view for all of its long-term patients. Photo: Nur Asri.
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    Tokyu Hospital's location above Ōokayama Station makes it extremely accessible to outpatients from other wards of Tokyo. Photo: Nur Asri.
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    A public plaza fronting Tokyu Hospital offers comfortable and inclusive seating for patients, nearby residents and university students to enjoy lunch outdoors. Photo: Nur Asri.
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    Traffic lights adjacent to Tokyu Hospital are programmed to give elderly and disabled pedestrians the extra time they need to cross streets. Photo: Nur Asri.