In the ever-more-diverse United States, facility designers are increasingly tasked with addressing a wider variety of cultural and spiritual needs of patients onsite. Spirituality has long been a staple of behavioral health practices, and spaces set aside as chapels have unique design concerns, according to experts.
Consider the fact that in 1948, 69 percent of Americans identified themselves as Protestant, but that number dropped to 37 percent in 2014, according to Gallup. Meanwhile, the number of people identifying with religions other than Protestant, Catholic or Jewish, was almost nonexistent in 1948, but rose to 5 percent by 2011, attributed to immigration trends. In 2012, a record high one-fifth of Americans reported being religiously unaffiliated, according to separate Pew Research Center polling.
Rebecca Scherbak, interior designer with Church Interiors, Inc., recommends facilities approach the spiritual room design as more of a mediation space than a religious chapel. The goal is to achieve a quiet, comfortable area that feels safe to all those who enter.
“In a hospital setting, there’s a diverse culture and diverse community that’s not purely Christian,” she says. “A chapel should consider that religious diversity to feel comfortable.”
Serving a variety of spiritual preferences is possible, but the facility must keep in mind that the chapel design needs to be sustainable for the long-term. Flexible seating, for example, will ensure that the space serves visitors for years to come.
Even smaller facilities are adopting spaces for spiritual worship and meditation, and the trend will continue not just based on tradition but also on clinical indication.
“More people are accepting the fact that there are many ways for healing that were not recognized in the past but are becoming more popular, for example, the whole aspect that prayer can help people heal,” Scherbak says. “Study shows it to be true.”
Scherbak also says she’s studied color choice for 20 years, and there is evidence that it can have a noticeable effect in a healing environment.
“We’re all hard wired to like the colors blue and green,” she says. “We are given huge doses of those colors in our environment because we’re comfortable with them.”
Bright colors should be reserved for gathering areas, but worship or meditation calls for soft color and sound control to minimize distraction. Consider colors that help ground visitors in the space.
One way to make the chapel feel more familiar to the patients, visitors and staff is to incorporate nature scenes. For example, a stained glass panel can create the look of landscapes or water that wouldn’t be associated with any particular faith group, she says.
She recommends that facility operators do their homework because well intentioned individuals might be tempted to simply designate a room on campus as a chapel space without considering the elements that make it an effective spiritual space.