Guest blog by art student Anna Pelgrim:

"Nature has a positive effect on healing"

As a child, Anna Pelgrim traveled along with her parents who worked as humanitarians. From an early age, she was exposed to the effects of stress on people’s health, both physical and mental. At the Royal Academy of Art The Hague, and with the encouragement of the Venture Academy program at the Centre for Innovation, she is now fine-tuning her ‘healing pod’ that is designed to improve the hospital environment for its patients by making use of nature. Read her story here.

After moving from the Netherlands to Lebanon at a young age, I witnessed the effect of pollution and stress on public health and the environment, but most of all, the mind. My parents worked as humanitarian workers in Lebanon. They, along with their team, organized medical equipment, staff, and locations to provide eye surgeries for Palestinian refugees living in overpopulated and neglected camps.

During the time of the surgeries, at the age of fourteen, I helped patients get to the Operation Room, cleaned equipment, and even disinfected eyes. The lack of a stable healthcare system and environment made me aware of its importance from a very early age.

When I traveled back to the Netherlands, I would be happily engulfed by the country’s freshness and greenery. I saw how nature has a substantially positive effect on the health of cities and their people. Eventually, I returned to the Netherlands to study Interactive/Media/Design at the Royal Academy of Art The Hague (KABK) and found over time that this desire for greenery, helping people, and design seeped into my work.

Nature’s role in hospital recovery

While visiting hospitals more frequently in recent years, I noticed an issue that seemed almost unmentioned. Where was nature in this sterile space? Time at a hospital can be both physically and mentally stressful and patients are often in physical pain and discomfort and bound to their rooms. Even though nature has been proven to have a positive effect on healing, nature did not seem to be as present in this environment as it could be.

“This was not the end of the process of finding a solution. I joined the Venture Academy to turn my project into a startup” – Anna Pelgrim, participant at the Centre for Innovation’s Venture Academy

To make an impact on this issue, I developed Architecture of Cure. This project, which consists of a documentary, research paper, and 3D-model, brings to question the role of the patient’s environment in a hospital. It attempts to find answers to why patient rooms do not provide a modifiable space accustomed to individual needs and whether nature is able to play a larger role in recovery in modern day hospitals.

The documentary discusses this topic specifically with an expert from Hortus Botanicus in Leiden, Rogier Van Vugt, a Rotterdam-based doctor named Jan Van Zellem, an ex-patient, and Sebastiaan De Kroon, a communications advisor from Tergooi Hospital. It concludes with a 3D-model for an ideal patient room that I designed with nature at its core.

Joining the Venture Academy

This was not the end of the process of finding a solution, however. I joined the Venture Academy, a pre-incubation program that is part of the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, to turn my project into a startup. Using my research and design skills, I am now working towards a product called the Healing Pod that aims to reduce stress in patients at hospitals by using nature.

The product’s most innovative aspects are that it combines existing capabilities and elements, such as specific plants, sunlight, and sounds, for stress reduction into one. The Venture Academy has enabled me to learn and iterate in a very short amount of time and has helped to turn my ideas into concrete actions. I’m looking forward to updating you on further developments on my Healing Pod soon.

Interested to hear more? Architecture of Cure is now in prototype phase. For more information, visit the project’s website and follow Anna on Facebook and Instagram.