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January 29, 2007

The Green House Project: Tangible Results from Empathetic Design

Green House residents at a communal meal
"Green Houses are homes for 6 to 10 elders who require skilled nursing care and want to live a rich life. They are a radical departure from traditional skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities, altering size, design, and organization to create a warm community. Their innovative architecture and services offer privacy, autonomy, support, enjoyment and a place to call home..."
from http://thegreenhouseproject.com/

I read a couple of articles last Spring about this project. One was in the UMNews, "Looks like a home, feels like a home," and the other was in the Chronicle of Philanthropy in the June issue (a treasure of articles on the positive effects design has on people) I swiped from my boss. I can't seem to link to that article online for free, so here are some compelling statements from it:


  • "In addition to giving residents more privacy and greater autonomy, the design of the Green Houses has led to significant medical benefits...the smaller scale of the Green Houses, she [Judith Rabig, co-director of the Green House Project] says, has allowed some residents to become less reliant on their wheelchairs and give them up altogether. Not only has that reduced the medical problems associated with immobility -- such as pressure sores and a greater chance of developing pneumonia or urinary tract infections -- but the increase in exercise has led to other health benefits...By expending more energy walking, says Ms. Rabig, residents have been sleeping better and eating more. When the first four Green Houses opened, some frail residents who moved from the old nursing home gained several pounds that first week; previously many of them struggled just to maintain their weight."
  • "When Mr. Johnson came to the Green House after having a stroke, staff members worried about how gaunt and thin he was. But he has since gained 20 pounds -- and will proudly tell visitors that his pants size has gone from a 32-inch waist to 36."
  • "An independent study found that residents in the Green Houses fell less often, and therefore sustained fewer injuries, than residents in traditional nursing home settings. The finding was a surprise, says Ms Rabig. she an her colleages had expected that because residents were walking more and, in some cases, had abandoned their wheelchairs, they would fall more often. She suspects that the increases exercise, better nutrition, and improved sleeping habits also increased residents' strength, which helped protect them against falls."
  • ..."The mantra of the whole design team from start to finish was 'Would you do that in your home?'"
  • "Mr. McAilly says that previously the residents in independent living never visited the nursing home, even if they had friends livin there. But they now frequent visitors in the Green Houses."

In researching this passage, I found another, more in depth article from NPR:
"Reformers Seek to Reinvent Nursing Homes"
Quotes from that 2-part article:


  • "'I believe that in [nursing homes] in America, really every year, thousands and thousands of people die of a broken heart," Thomas [author of What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World] says. "They die not so much because their organs fail, but because their grip on life has failed.'"
  • "These buildings [traditional style nursing homes] give those within their walls little reason to suspect that elderhood can be a rich, rewarding phase of human development. Long corridors disable frail people, forcing them into wheelchairs. Massive dining rooms are impersonal and intimidating and promote anxiety. There is limited access to outdoor space. Double rooms (laughably called "semiprivate" rooms) and shared bathrooms invade privacy. Furniture, floor coverings, and drapery are matched consistently throughout, as if the place were a chain hotel rather than the home it is meant to simulate. The grim institutional appearance damages the well-being of staff and residents alike."
  • "Our deepest cultural memories suffuse the hearth with the twin pleasures of food and fire. The hearth includes an open kitchen and a large table around which meals are shared. The importance of having such an arrangement is confirmed by research showing that people living with dementia benefit from taking their meals in communal settings. Because the hearth is the center of the design, each elder’s room opens onto this space. There are no long corridors."

"Design in Your Future:" Setting the Tone for the College of Design

A couple of quotes from the recent article "Design in Your Future" in UMNews written by Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design:

"Daniel Pink argues in his best-selling book, A Whole New Mind: Moving From the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, that left-brain, analytical thinking will eventually be done with software or outsourced overseas, and that the greatest economic and social value will come from right-brain thinkers. The practical imagination of designers puts them near the top of Pink's list of those who will lead in the coming 'conceptual age.'"

"Though design is generally thought of as a way to make things look good and work better, more and more it is being recognized as a way to improve lives and make the world a healthier place. The College of Design educates students to be leaders in the field of social change via design and to be visionaries for a better future."

Further reading about work from the College of Design:
Saving the past

December 14, 2006

Design Matters

Something to think about...
I was listening in the background today to a recent speech by Jonathan Kozol to Carlton students. Jonathan Kozol is a former teacher that now writes about public education -- especially the inequality and segregation of today's schools.
In his speech, he describes the stark differences in the quality of school life of the all-black schools he visited compared to the suburban all-white schools of privalege he is familiar with. He describes in detail the differences in atmosphere -- the way the lunch rooms, classrooms, and study rooms compare in aesthetic -- and he makes this point:

"...Here's what I think: I happen to believe that aesthetic counts. Beautiful surroundings refine the souls of children. Filthy settings coursen their mentalities. It's one of the most absolute and dramatic ways by which we draw the line of race and caste within American society..."

The atmosphere we provide for people to learn, work, and live communicates to them how much we value them. What kind of difference do you think it would make just to have a beautiful or even just "nice looking" atmosphere to learn in?

I have more to write on this later...