Healing park planned for Woodlands hospital

Artist's impression of Woodlands Health Campus.
Artist's impression of Woodlands Health Campus.PHOTO: ALEXANDRA HEALTH SYSTEM

NParks to design 1.5ha green footprint with features catering to different patients' needs

Green spaces will feature prominently in the Woodlands Health Campus when it opens in 2022, including a 1.5ha park "contributed" by the National Parks Board (NParks).

This marks the first time NParks, which created and oversees more than 300 parks here, is designing the green footprint for a hospital, which will feature purpose-built gardens for patient healing.

Mr Yeo Meng Tong, NParks' senior director for design, research and development, and his team have worked closely with the hospital's therapists, and observed dementia and frail patients for the project.

The landscape architect, who has 30 years' experience and is the man behind Pasir Ris, Yishun and Bedok Reservoir parks, also consulted foreign experts on garden therapy.

Dr Jason Cheah, who chairs the planning committee for Woodlands Health Campus, said: "A growing body of research has shown that the immediate physical environment plays a significant role in patient outcomes and recovery times."

Here are the key features.

PATHS

Footpaths in gardens are often colourful or embedded with patterns. But not those at the upcoming Woodlands Health Campus.

BEYOND MEDICINE

The immediate physical environment plays a significant role in patient outcomes and recovery times.

DR JASON CHEAH, on what a growing body of research shows.

Decorated footpaths could confuse patients with dementia or poor eyesight, Mr Yeo had learnt. The colour differences on the footpath, for example, could lead them to think the ground was uneven or make them fearful of treading on it.

So the gardens will feature paths of solid, muted colours, with a different colour at the sides to indicate where the path ends.

To cater to wheelchairs, the paths will have no steps and all slopes will be gentle. Paths will be lined with handrails - made of a material that is not metal, which would get too hot under the sun - to offer support to recovering patients.

The paths will take a circular route, so those who want to can keep walking round and round.

Mr Yeo said he was told that dementia patients do not like to see an "end" or a blockage, so the paths will have gradual turns.

BENCHES

Wheelchair users will be able to sit with others to enjoy the flora as there will be space next to benches for them.

Besides that, the benches scattered around the park will need back and hand rests to help the elderly sit and get up more easily.

The seats will also have to be higher than normal as some elderly people find it difficult to straighten up from low seats.

But their designs might carry a hint of nostalgia, such as the terrazzo benches that clan associations had in the 1960s.

THEMES

The gardens will have different themes to promote various moods and activities. The healing gardens will comprise four zones: Zone 1 is a forest with plenty of tall trees ranging from 12m to 15m high, creating an enclosed environment for people to enjoy solitude.

The trees will be chosen partly for their peeling bark that reveals different colours. People can touch the trunk and feel its natural texture.

As this zone is on a higher ground level than the hospital buildings, they can be viewed from fourth- storey windows, said Mr Yeo. Zone 2 is also forest-like, but less dense. It is a "passive" area, with benches that face the active zones. That way, those who prefer to be alone can still enjoy the buzz around them. Zone 3 will be largely turf, and is meant for activities like morning exercise or taiqi. There will be trees for shade, benches for people to rest on and play equipment for children, including those at the childcare centre on the campus. Zone 4 comprises open spaces for community gardening. Rooftop gardens will also be set up at several buildings in the campus.

Therapeutic gardens, which are green fingers between the blocks, will also be designed by NParks.

Therapists have told Mr Yeo that they would like to conduct some activities, now always done within four walls, outdoors. So he will be designing the gardens to help them achieve this - with a focus on colour, smell and texture.

For older patients, there will be bright red flowers to stimulate their minds. For those who are easily agitated, they can head to another area with calming blue and purple blooms. These gardens will be interspersed with scented plants, either to stimulate or to calm their senses.

Given the hot climate here, the placement of the trees, shrubs and flowering plants is important. They have to be planted in a way that allows for "wind tunnels" - so the garden will have gentle breezes blowing through, noted Mr Yeo.

FAUNA

Part of the design is to attract birds and butterflies, said Mr Yeo.

There will be plants bearing the type of fruit and seeds that birds love. Similarly, there will be flowers that draw butterflies.

Not a single bird or butterfly was spotted at the ground-breaking ceremony earlier this month, but Mr Yeo assured that they will be there when the place gets its first patient in 2022.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Healing park planned for Woodlands hospital'. Print Edition | Subscribe