Mental Health Facility Uses Design to Improve Outcomes

Far from the drab and claustrophobic mental health facilities of cinematic fame, Ohana aims to serve patients in an aesthetically soothing, nature-driven environment.

2 minute read

March 27, 2024, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Aerial view of Ohana mental health facility in Monterey, California with wavy silver roof.

Ohana campus in Monterey, California. | Montage Health / Ohana

In a piece for Bloomberg CityLab, Alexandra Lange describes a mental health facility in Monterey, California designed with youth in mind, one that uses mass timber and soft furniture to create a comforting, open, and light-filled space that bucks the stereotype of the sterile, brutalist mental health ward.

The overall aesthetic of Ohana could be described as 21st century prep school, except here youth are not molded into cookie-cutter members of the elite but provided with the tools to mold themselves. Instead of long, straight, whitewashed hallways, there are curved, sunlit, wood-framed corridors. Instead of being surmounted by a timekeeping belltower, the highest point is the eyebrow curve of the lobby roofline, supported by visible glue-laminated timber beams and columns, directing the gaze out to the hills and up to the sky.

The facility also features expansive hillside views from its south-facing rooms and art selected to appeal to young viewers. “Outside, on the terrace, raised beds will soon be absorbed into the clinic’s programming via a garden club, while the rest of the landscaping, designed by Monterey firm BFS Landscape Architects, emphasizes plants like mint, lavender, and rosemary, whose bioactive phenols can activate the immune system and help with sleep.”

The facility works with health insurance and is funded in part by a $60 million endowment. Executive director Susan Swick hopes it can serve as a model for this type of care and offer evidence that it can achieve better outcomes for patients. “While Swick and her team collect data, Ohana is already making a statement, materially, that mental health care should not be secret, that better care is found in community, and that children deserve the best design.”

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