Does Nature Nurture?- Wellness and Spa Design

Robert Henry,, discusses wellness design for a recent project in Costa Rica.Does nature help us relax? Can nature-nurture? Think of the ocean. It affects all the senses. Physiologically there’s an exchange between negative and positive ions, so our bodies physically respond to that environment. All of that is complemented by the soothing repetitive sound of the ocean waves. Saltwater provides additional healing components, being nearly identical with nutrients and minerals as human amniotic fluid. Imagine a campfire. Just staring at the mesmerizing flames can relax you. You can smell the wood and feel the physical warmth.


In terms of wellness and spa design, we bring together man-made and natural environments. When we’re fortunate enough to work on a project located within a beautiful natural environment, we sensitively integrate the natural landscape with the building, allowing the building to symbiotically “dance” with nature along the lines of Frank Lloyd Wright’s development with Falling Water. There, the building attempts to integrate into the beauty of the natural surroundings, infusing the experience with what nature provides.


We were involved in the concept and planning stages of a project in Costa Rica near the water’s edge. We planned this eco-centric resort so that the building seems to hover above the landscape, allowing the tidal water to move in and out below the building.


The rooftop is naturally exposed, so we created a rooftop garden taking advantage of the sun and providing a green roof that insulates the building. Here we’re working with the natural site context and reinforcing what nature has to offer by allowing the breeze to cool the building naturally with a louvred facade that directs breezes while blocking out the strong northern sun. We used hybrid mechanical systems that work with nature’s elements to heat and cool the building, including solar panels for heating 80% of the building’s water, thus minimizing the impact on the environment and its surroundings. Working with passive design techniques, we created a building that integrates a breathing skin through louvres that can be opened and allows the natural air currents to move above, below, and through the building.


When it comes to working with wellness environments in a more urban or suburban setting, we bring nature inside the physical architectural environment. We can do that through small viewing gardens that become more experiential on a larger scale. We integrate more of nature and softscape, or planting, than hardscape. This allows not only the patients moving through the building, but everyone that’s working there, to experience a healthier environment versus a sick environment. It provides an escape with a natural setting reintroduced into the building interior, and yet still providing all necessary clinical and technical aspects of a medical center.


These experiences with nature bring us into the present moment, absorbing the beauty and giving our worries and nervous tension over to nature. We become invested in the experience letting nature nurture us.


Robert Henry