Space to Heal: Exploring the Cutting Edge of Neuroscience Facility Design

Neuroscience facilities serve patients with a wide range of conditions, from cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s to mobility challenges resulting from spinal cord injuries. Patients facing cognitive disorders may feel as though they’re experiencing a space for the very first time, even though they’ve been there dozens of times, while patients with mobility aids require extra space to access and move through a facility. These spaces need to be intuitively accessible and comfortable every time.

From facilitating wayfinding to incorporating new technologies, thoughtful design helps to create calming, restorative experiences while supporting healthcare advancement for this patient population. In the latest episode of Side of Design, we dive into the unique considerations and challenges of designing neuroscience facilities, joined by BWBR Principal Ryan Johansen, Design Leader Chris Fischer, and Senior Interior Designer Miranda McNamara Mace.

An Intuitive Environment

Whether or not patients face memory-related issues, designing spaces that are easy identifiable is a critical component of neuroscience facility design. “It’s not just signage, it’s more of those perceptive, intuitive wayfinding elements that really help someone navigate the space a little bit more easily,” explains Miranda. For these facilities, wayfinding begins at the exterior. “One of the big things for most of our clients is creating a landmark,” Chris says. “It’s about creating a place that’s easily recognizable so that it feels familiar when you return.”

In one project example, the BWBR team utilized an exterior tower over the neuroscience entry, extending above the building to distinctively stand out on the hospital campus. Not only did this act as a landmark, but also as a form of large-scale wayfinding. “It brought you into the facility from a distance and then, once you got there, it drew you right down to the front door,” Chris explains.

The design team also employs a layered approach to interior wayfinding, incorporating brain-friendly elements like color, texture, and graphics. “As we layer those wayfinding elements with an image, with a different color, with a number or a letter with that texture, it’s just giving those patients options to choose what they remember and can help lead them through the facility each time they come,” Ryan says.

For some patients, the transition between a smooth tile floor and soft carpet triggers spatial awareness. Others might trail their hands along a wall as they progress through a space and be alert for a transition in wallpaper texture. These design elements might be taken for granted in other facilities but are of monumental importance when facilitating accessibility in a neuroscience facility. As Miranda explains, “it gives the patient more of an easy way to be independent when coming out of the clinic and finding their way back to waiting spaces.”

Harnessing New Technology

Advanced technology is increasingly significant in neuroscience facilities, from virtual reality for treatment planning to adaptive technologies that support independent living. With new cutting-edge treatments evolving all the time, designers are seeing a theme of putting technology on display in common areas, allowing patients and their families to understand what the facility is capable of and how it will translate into care.

Designers can help integrate technology into a facility, whether they’re using signage and 3D models to express capabilities in public spaces or incorporating technology inside treatment rooms. Chris shares an example: “Virtual reality is an ideal scenario. It’s not like you can open up the skull and look in there and say, Hey, this is what we’re going to do today, folks.” It’s one thing to show renderings on a computer, but BWBR teams can produce 3D models that bring a design to life and enrich stakeholder understanding throughout the process.

The Power of Collaboration

Speaking of stakeholders, designing successful neuroscience facilities requires close collaboration with a range of stakeholders, from department leaders and frontline staff to patients themselves.

BWBR’s philosophy centers on a collaborative, engaging design process that breaks down complexity and addresses the collective needs of all stakeholders. Chris explains that touring other facilities with the client is a critical part of the process, allowing them to pinpoint what design elements they like and dislike, and what will and won’t work for their staff. “Precedent is key,” he says.

All stakeholders matter, but BWBR makes a point of constantly keeping patient experiences in mind. “Nothing can replace patient engagement,” Ryan says. “They’re the ones who have the ultimate decision—is this a place I can come to seek my care, or am I going to go somewhere else? Do I feel comfortable? Do I feel valued?” Ryan says neuroscience facilities represent “probably the most complex and challenging project type I’ve experienced and been fortunate to work on.” Despite the complexity, the team is experienced in breaking down these complex projects into a streamlined process that drives results.

The Future of Neuroscience Facility Design

As the conversation turns to the future, the design team highlights emerging trends and technological advancements that will shape neuroscience facilities in the coming years. The field is on the precipice of significant advancement, from gene therapies and editing to the increasing integration of humans and machines.

And yet, no matter how technologically advanced things get, there are fundamentals that won’t change. As Miranda says, “familiar is a really key word” when it comes to neuroscience design. It’s not an accident that those fundamentals center on grounded, healing elements like access to daylight and the importance of biophilic design, incorporating natural materials to facilitate indoor/outdoor connections.

Design for neuroscience facilities is an intricate balance of art and science, precision and compassion—not unlike the healing process.

Forced Labor in the Building Material Supply Chain: A Mitigation Framework

May contain sensitive content.

BWBR was thrilled to welcome primary researcher Dung “Joon” Ta for a two-semester internship as part of the University of Minnesota Master of Science in Architecture – Applied Research in Practice (MS-ARP) program. Joon dug deep into the complexities of the issue of modern slavery with the intent of providing usable guidance for design professionals, and the resulting project is a four-step framework to help designers recognize and mitigate the risks of forced labor within the supply chain of specified building materials.

Despite the common belief that slavery belongs to the past, it persists in contemporary society, manifesting in diverse forms. The COVID-19 pandemic, economic shockwaves, widespread job loss, and an upsurge in poverty have left millions of workers worldwide in situations of heightened vulnerability and their fundamental principles and rights at work at greater risk. Modern slavery is a global phenomenon occurring in every country and industry, with 2021 Global Estimates revealing that 50 million people are in situations of modern slavery on any given day, either forced to work against their will or in a marriage that they were forced into.

What is Modern Slavery?

Modern slavery covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labor, concepts linked to forced labor (i.e., debt bondage, slavery and slavery like practices and human trafficking), and forced marriage. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term that focuses attention on commonalities across these legal concepts. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

Step One: Identify High-Risk Materials

The manufacturing sector accounts for nearly one-fifth of all forced labor exploitation of adults, impacting about 3 million people. Manufacturing involves the transformation of raw materials from agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining or quarrying, as well as the transformation of other manufacturing products into new products. Most forced labor cases occur in production in the lower tiers of domestic or global supply chains. The below interactive visual helps identify high-risk materials, countries, and applications and end products.

Data visualized from Design for Freedom Toolkit

Step Two: Gather Public Information

Refer to the following table as a guide to find or request documentation from manufacturers that could contain information related to forced labor.

Step Three: Request Non-Transparent Information

Below is an email template with questions to request additional information if necessary.

Dear [Manufacturer],

Our organization has committed to working toward more equitable building material supply chains. We seek material transparency in the products we specify on our projects. Forced labor is a global phenomenon occurring in virtually every country and industry, with the 2021 Global Estimates revealing that 28 million individuals endure such conditions daily. We strive to prioritize products and manufacturers that support human rights and equitable practices. We invite you to be a collaborator in this important work. We appreciate your commitment to this effort.

  1. Do you have any policies, code of conduct, code of ethics, or statements that address forced labor in the supply chain?
    • What grievance and whistle-blowing mechanisms do you have in place for employees? Please describe.
  1. Please list the country(ies) where your organization manufactures this product.
  1. Do you have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) risk mapping? Please describe.
    • Do you have an audit program and/or other due diligence program for your suppliers? If yes, do they only apply to Tier 1 suppliers or all suppliers involved in the supply chain?
    • Do you monitor suppliers’ compliance?

Step Four: Further Education

Below are some additional resources for further education:


There exists a pressing need to expand knowledge on modern slavery impacts. The hope is that this research helps to raise awareness of the issue, proposing a framework and offering resources as an advocacy tool to empower design professionals in recognizing and mitigating the risk of forced labor within the supply chains of specified building materials.