Ph.D. Arch student developing first set of tools to evaluate healing gardens at hospitals

Naomi Sachs

Naomi Sachs, a Texas A&M [Ph.D. architecture] ( student, is developing the first set of standardized, tested set of tools to evaluate hospital healing gardens’ effects on patients’ health.

“The demand for gardens and nature spaces in healthcare facilities has grown in the past two decades and is stronger than ever. Despite a clear need, there are no standardized instruments for the evaluation of outdoor spaces in general acute care hospitals,” said Sachs, whose tools will provide designers and healthcare providers with a means to deliver a credible, generalizable evaluation of outdoor healing gardens.

“Evaluation is a critical part of evidence-based design and designed-environment research,” said Sachs. “Valid, reliable evaluation instruments can be used not only to assess an existing environment, they can also be used as guides and tools for future design and research by determining which garden elements, such as water features, paths, or resting places, are best serving users.”

Sachs’ tools, the Healthcare Garden Evaluation Toolkit, include an audit of elements in healthcare gardens, such as visual and physical access to the garden from indoors, sufficient, comfortable seating, and safe places for people to walk or use assistive mobility devices.

The tools also include observations of what patients, visitors and staff do in the garden, such as stroll, eat, or use a mobile phone; user surveys, and interviews with the garden’s designer, the hospital’s facility manager, and a hospital staff member who participated in the garden’s design to provide insight into the designer's original intent and issues that occurred during and after design and construction.

“Evaluation is critical for designers and facilities to compare what was originally intended with what is actually happening,” said Sachs. “If the garden is falling short in some way, evaluation can help identify what needs to be changed to improve it.”

Sachs is testing the tools with the assistance of graduate students in seven healthcare facilities throughout the United States. The work is funded by a $10,000 2016-17 American Institute of Architects’ [Arthur N. Tuttle, Jr. Graduate Fellowship] ( in Health Facility Planning and Design.

Since its inception in 1950, the fellowship, renamed to honor Tuttle when he died in 2003, has funded graduate studies by 30 Texas A&M design students.

posted September 20, 2016