AIA: A new era dawns in behavioral health design

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The American Institute of Architects, March 18, 2019 — Departing from the institutionalized care of the past, architects are designing behavioral health hospitals, clinics, and specialized environments that better reflect the needs of patients and staff.

Erin Sharp Newton has spent years designing buildings in cities around the globe, always with a focus on how her work can better the human condition. After a decade in Italy, she returned to the United States with a desire to tackle projects that go “beyond what looks cool.” At NK Architects in Morristown, New Jersey, she found a design specialty that suited her: Behavioral health.

“Designing behavioral health facilities is a challenge that is unlike any other project type,” she says. “From the windows to the doors, the walls, the ceilings, the lighting, the fixtures; every aspect requires a totally different mode of thinking as compared to a typical design project.”

One recently completed project at NK that Newton is particularly proud of is SUN Behavioral Health’s inpatient/outpatient hospital in Erlanger, Kentucky.

“The fantastic thing here is that it was a ground-up,” Newton says. Many projects in this field are upgrades or renovations, she notes, which limits an architect’s ability to start from scratch. Here, the team at NK could pursue their full agenda with the support of a committed and knowledgeable healthcare client.

The hospital came in at just under 150,000 square feet with 197 beds. It’s entirely devoted to mental and behavioral health; SUN prides itself on being a community-oriented company, which means an emphasis on community spaces and on providing resources for everyone. They even have their own emergency room, where patients in need can be seen immediately.

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