An inventory of biophilic design attributes within child life play spaces

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Beth L. McGee (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Anna Marshall-Baker

Abstract: A review of the literature in architecture and interior design revealed health benefits from exposure to natural conditions. This was not particularly surprising given work related to biophilic theory, which posits an innate human affiliation to nature. The positive effects of interaction with our environment were also found in literature related to child development which revealed the importance of nature and play for enriching children's development. This project intended to quantify the variety of biophilic design attributes present within existing play spaces that are used to support children's health and well-being in healthcare settings within Child Life, a program that aims to help children and their families cope with the healthcare experience. The project used photography to document 24 inpatient play spaces in North Carolina health care facilities that employ Child Life. Features of the spaces identified in the photographs were recorded using a Biophilic Interior Design Matrix, which was developed to inventory the range of biophilia through design elements and their subset attributes (Kellert, 2008) to provide a quantitative score. It was developed and pre-tested in order to use the instrument to quantify the play room attributes and used inter-rater reliability testing to further define the instrument's accuracy and dependability. The results from the matrix was an average total biophilic attribute score of 21.5 out of 52 total points or a 41% average inclusion with a statistical range of 25. The average for all of the room's element sub-scores was averaged among each other with a 3.7 score of attribute inclusion per element among all of the play rooms. The element with the highest presence was Natural Shapes and Forms, the representation or simulation of the natural world, and the lowest was Place-Based Relationships, connecting culture with ecology and the geographical context. These results offer initial findings as to what levels the biophilia attributes are found in the interior, and specifically in Child Life play spaces. An online survey of the eight Child Life facilities staff was conducted regarding their play space preferences, where they use these rooms to work with hospitalized children. The four open-ended question's responses showed the most common topic was a desire for a spacious environment with 54% of play rooms either requesting more space or appreciating a large space. The human desire for spaciousness was found to be greatly desired in interior play rooms for its ability to help patients move throughout the space easily and have access to choices of activities alongside of other patients. Secondly, around 30% specifically wanted or appreciated having nature-based design features. Also, the surveys resounded with support for the play space as a tool used by Child Life in its endeavors for supporting their pediatric patients and its effectiveness. The survey results were incorporated with the matrix findings to create 24 case studies of the play spaces. The lowest effectiveness ratings from the survey responses were found in spaces scoring on the lowest end of the matrix results and further support a link between an environment with a higher variety of biophilic attributes and an effective Child Life play space. These case studies showed that biophilic features were found in varying amounts and some were specifically indicated as being desirable. Further research on the individual attributes and wider application of the matrix may add to this initial quantification of biophilia. The matrix is easily adapted for additional applications and was aimed at assisting interior designers with aiding biophilia incorporation. The case studies provide support for future biophilia design decisions, as well as informing additional research involving Child Life play spaces.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2012
Biophilia, Child life, Design attributes, Interior design, Play room
Human ecology
Children $x Hospitals $x Design and construction
Children $x Hospitals $x Environmental aspects
Playrooms $x Design and construction

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