A Danish Hospital That Heals With Color

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

In August we visited Copenhagen and saw an incredible show of the Danish artist Poul Gernes at the Louisiana Museum. At that show I learned that Gernes designed an entire hospital in Denmark, called Herlev, that maintains its colorful interiors from the 1970s. I’d never seen such a colorful hospital! This video, sent to me by my friend Sofie, shows the incredible impact of color in the hospital experience. Gernes was originally commissioned to paint just the lobby, but was subsequently asked to add color to the whole building, including the patient rooms.


The colors cheer me up and indicate that there’s a world outside where these colors can be found.

Gernes described his work in the hospital as having an artistic function as well as an atmospheric one. By atmospheric, what Gernes really meant was that color played an almost structural role, helping people find their way and maintain their bearings in the space. Color breaks the uniformity, the monotony of similar spaces that repeat over and over again. It’s striking for me how much uniformity seems to be an unwritten design rule in institutional spaces, and yet how terrible uniformity is for the inhabitants of a space. Large, uniform spaces are incredibly disorienting, offering no landmarks to aid navigation, and they numb the senses. As Gernes describes, color is an easy way to address these structural issues.

“Colors cheer me up because you need them in here,” says Palle Asger Jorn, a leukemia patient at Herlev. “You experience very emotional situations here, when everything is horrible and you don’t feel like going on. The colors cheer me up and indicate that there’s a world outside where these colors can be found, and that’s why I’m here. So I can go out an experience those colors again, and not be here forever.”

Have you noticed the healing effects of color, either as a patient or a healthcare worker? If so, please share your experience!

October 14th, 2016


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    Discussion (2 Comments)

  1. Michelle cripps on October 8, 2018

    The Royal Adelaide Hospital in Adelaide Australia was built incorporating an arts and design strategy that saw 26 South Australian artists work incorporated in the build. See images and a news story from a couple of years ago at https://indaily.com.au/arts-and-culture/2015/11/26/art-integral-to-new-royal-adelaide-hospital.

    Building on this work, the Centre for Creative Health is developing arts programs and projects to compliment the arts already embedded in the hospital design. Our Music on the Concourse program – 20 volunteers playing a small grand piano in the foyer – brings joy to people every day!

  2. Judy Rydell on February 9, 2019

    love your website – found it while researching Poul Gernes!


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