LOOKING UP

Biophilic Design in Light of Art, Neuroscience, and Technology

A Sight for Sore Eyes: Intensive Care with a View

Research-verified virtual skylights reduce patient stress and anxiety in isolated ICUs.

Written by: David Navarrete

Imagine. What’s the therapeutic effect of an open sky in an intensive care unit? 

Until now, nobody knew.

The answer was provided courtesy of Sky Factory, the only provider of research-verified virtual skylights in the world, who teamed up with Southern Lyon Hospital.

Together, designers set out to transform the patient experience in the hospital’s isolated resuscitation rooms. The challenge was to work with a standard ICU room design, which tends to generate anxiety in patients due to the enclosed nature of the space. 

The solution? Create the illusion of perceived open space. 


An unencumbered vista to nature—even an illusory view of the sky—ameliorates the disorientation felt by patients emerging from unconsciousness. The familiar element of a blue sky, white clouds, and a trace of foliage delivers an organic connection to nature that our physiology intuitively finds reassuring.

By using a combination of techniques, fine artists at the Sky Factory’s simulate a line of sight to open blue skies. Employing high resolution images, calibrated color temperature and light intensity—plus patented architectural reveals—designers give rise to a portal that is not only visually alluring, but spatially accurate. 

These illusions of nature deliver a more powerful therapeutic benefit than representational imagery. Simulating an open view to nature that transcends its symbolic reference frame allows observers to experience an automatic “Relaxation Response”—the same reaction that natural environments evoke.

“The [Personal Revelation SkyCeiling] provides a touch of daylight,” says Magali and Amelie, shift nurses at the hospital’s ICU. “The installation provides a welcome point of reference for patients about their proximity to a natural exterior.” Patients that just endured a trying episode can focus their attention on a view reminiscent of better days outdoors, marveling at the sky.

The project was funded by the Association of Life Aplastic Anemia and Leukemia (AVAL). 

The two resuscitation rooms outfitted with these 2’ X 6’ simulated portals to open skies come on the heels of a well-regarded, peer-reviewed study by Texas Tech University entitled The Impact of Nature Stimuli in Patient Outcomes

The single-blind, 8-month study found that Sky Factory’s Luminous SkyCeilings made a significant difference in patient room environments by reducing Acute Stress by more than 53% and Anxiety by more than 34%.





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