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Mutual visibility and interaction: staff reactions to the ‘healing architecture’ of psychiatric inpatient wards in Denmark

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Psychiatric hospitals are increasingly designed to reflect contemporary models of care. As such, inpatient settings are changing based on the promise that the built environment will promote patient recovery and support psychiatric work. While extant literature examines how such novel designs mediate health outcomes and shape patient experiences, less attention has been directed towards staff experiences and the mediating role of the built environment for staff/patient interaction. By focusing on the nursing station at two inpatient wards of a new, purpose-built psychiatric hospital in Denmark, this study shows that the transparent properties of the built environment produce an environment of uncertainty and distance instead of intelligibility and closeness, which in turn shapes the nature of staff/patient interaction according to a differential field of visibilities. This study indicates that greater attention must be directed towards analysing the impact of novel designs on the relational dynamics between spaces, visibilities and people to appreciate how, and for whom, the built environment makes a difference in practice. This study thus contributes to the literature on the unique characteristics of psychiatric inpatient settings and how such settings impact psychiatric staff.

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Correspondence to Thorben Peter Simonsen.

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Simonsen, T.P., Duff, C. Mutual visibility and interaction: staff reactions to the ‘healing architecture’ of psychiatric inpatient wards in Denmark. BioSocieties 16, 249–269 (2021).

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