Sound health: How tranquility rooms can heal caregivers

Sound can also be healing. It promotes a culture of quietness and enhances environments, not just for patients but also for caretakers.

March 28, 2018 |

In hospital environments, staff can be inundated with noise—loud sirens, patients in pain, machines beeping—it’s a reflection of policies and regulations creating a dehumanized healthcare experience. But sound—through multisensory environments like the “Tranquility Room” at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.—can also be healing, by promoting a culture of quietness, enhancing environments not just for patients, but to also care for those who take care of others.

Throughout this blog series, we’ve underscored the importance for compassion towards staff—through the partnership between Gensler, sound alchemist Yoko Sen, and the Johns Hopkins Sibley Innovation Hub to develop the Tranquility Room. This room has had a profound effect on staff, with the hospital embracing self-care and mindfulness methodologies. Recently, we introduced the Tranquility Room concept at STIR: The Experience Lab—an unconventional conference or “unconference,” a convergence of 300 healthcare executives and practitioners curated through moving music, spoken word, and inspiring talks to push the conversation forward to make healthcare better. Here’s what we learned.


The Tranquility Room Pop-Up

During the “experience salon” at STIR, attendees interacted with the Tranquility Room Pop-Up—a collaboration between Gensler, The Experience LabYoko Sen, and filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg with products provided by KeilhauerBuzzispace, and Body Sound. The concept created an immersive experience by tapping into the senses through visual projection, sound, and aromatherapy. As people queued up to enter the room, our live feedback indicated that the vast majority were entering the room with a “not tranquil” state of mind. After about five minutes, visitors came out of the room saying, “Amazing,” Wow,” “I’ve never experienced that before,” and “Loved It!”


Visitors entered the Tranquility Room in a “not tranquil” state of mind, and reported a more “tranquil” state after leaving the room.

Upon diving deep with attendees, some questions and comments became glaringly important:

  • This is great, but how do I get my nurses to the room?
  • How do I keep a room like this going, self-sustaining?
  • Who is giving permission for my nurses to take a break?
  • Where do I locate this room in my hospital? Is it right outside the unit?
  • What role will the location have in instilling the culture to take a break?


Operational Changes for a Successful Tranquility Room

Based on our experience at Sibley and STIR, the feedback we received requires inquiry into the methods to encourage a Tranquility Room to go beyond concept and intention towards analysis on the institutional changes that can strengthen the momentum for the project. Three key factors contribute to a successful Tranquility Room:


1. You need an executive champion – Hospitals and medical organizations need at least one person at the executive level to be a champion of the project. They are the change agents that can invoke an institutional shift by accepting phenomenon’s like nurse fatigue, supporting resilience training of staff, and ultimately propelling the project.

2. You need a budget, and a realistic one – A Tranquility Room project cannot move forward without adequate funds that are set aside of the hospital budget. A modest budget emphasizes starting small, allowing for iteration, and encouraging staff feedback, reinforced by design thinking.

3. You need a dedicated project manager – A project manager gives the project authenticity to the hospital by having a dedicated person manage all the parties involved while maintaining the vision and aspirational goals and providing oversight of the executive champion, facilities management, staff, and the design team. They own the mission.


Other Tranquility Room Considerations

Finding the right space can be challenging since every space in an existing hospital is already accounted for another use or purpose. It’s imperative for leadership, the project manager, staff, and facilities to work together to carve out space. By focusing on creating a cultural shift centered on the well-being of staff, leadership must create mechanisms to grant staff permission to use the space, whether it’s the managing nurse, unit manager, or nursing supervisor. Signage and guidelines explain the protocol for using the space, and ultimately empower staff to use the space through a sustainable and prescribed method.

Health and wellness environments can succeed by taking an all-encompassing approach to design by factoring not just patients, but all users. The Tranquility Room signifies that our industry is pivoting its approach towards using space to create sound health for not just patients, but for caregivers as well, and that the needs of staff matter beyond measure.

GenslerOn | Gensler

Published by Gensler, a global design firm with 5,000 practitioners networked across five continents, GenslerOn features insights and opinions of architects and designers on how design innovation makes cities more livable, work smarter, and leisure more engaging. Our contributors write about projects of every scale, from refreshing a retailer’s brand to planning a new urban district, all the while explaining how great design can optimize business performance and human potential. For more blog posts, visit:

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