Historically, ceilings in healthcare and education facilities used to tell us the same story over and over; a one-dimensional plane coated one way or another) in flat white, punctuated only by utilitarian light fittings of little if any decorative value, that usually buzzed.

Contemporary ceilings have storeys of stories where each and every one is a page turner.

This advance in design reflects the growing scope of adaptive materials and advances in fixing systems.

Ceiling panels, once the unstable camouflage for overhead wiring, and HVAC systems now offer sleek profiles that while delivering the same necessary service, now also enhance the space in many other ways.

Timber products – frequently seen as veneers, have become an art form.

While the finished profile is enormously variable, a common theme of spaced timber batons invisibly attached to various backgrounds, is a backbone design.

Plus, many producers offer quick installation, which is always a positive, but perhaps never more so than in healthcare where pressure for completion has added immediacy.

The Innowood InnoCeil range offers a wide choice of profiles produce an elegant finish using hidden fixing systems or suspended grid fixing systems.

The shiplap is a tight panel of broad strips, while the slatted ceiling system available in varying densities straight slat lines from solid profiles with coverage as small as 16mm and spacing to suit any design – tweaked by the infinite choice of background colours.

With Innoceil the batons click onto a suspended carrier, creating a lightweight structure which can be a critical feature where load bearing is an issue.

The overall effect has the emotional warmth of timber, in shades as pale as Lily White to the depths of Kiwi Black or Ebony.

In an educational setting, the value of the emotional notes created by building products should not be underestimated.

Biophilic design in education has been recognised as a having a positive coercive effect on learning, related to the biophilia hypothesis that people, especially kids thrive when connected to nature. Further research also suggests a link between the natural resource and lowered cortisol levels and associated stress.

BVN has recently won awards for Knut Menden’s led Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Primary School, in which timber plays a major role. However, it is timber use with a clear conscience.

According to the design statement “OLA is a model for sustainability through its innovations in construction by using engineered timber. The additions to the school feature Glulam, cross laminated timber walls and CLT acoustic ceiling flooring system.”

The system chosen by Knut, who’s previous educational projects includes the haunting, light filled Ravenswood design, was the Lignotrend Acoustic ceilings and Lignotrend Rippe/Block CLT prefabricated slabs with the same finish as the acoustic ceiling.

The end result has received rave reviews from fully grown people as well as those not yet fully formed.

The sound of learning

The Taronga Institute of Science and Learning is another example of the educative experience in design. Australia’s most famous zoo’s learning building had a multitude of roles to fulfil, including crowds of kids visiting at the same time that serious research is being carried out. The multi-level, open plan space features various ceiling finishes, all of which had acoustic criteria to reach.

Keystone Linings and Acoustics supplied product for the zoological zone, including a long grain birch plywood lining in the education areas, that has satisfied acoustic and design benchmarks. Their Key-Ply range is perforated or slotted plywood, which comes in a range of elegant timber looks, as well metallic and pearl effects all of which offer excellent acoustic properties.

Where sound is a major issue, USG Boral offers products that satisfy the problem, including the perforated plasterboard range Echostops which has NRC ratings of up to 0.80, and acoustic ceiling tiles reaching an NRC of 0.95.

A star in their current range of acoustic ceiling systems is Ensemble which comes in a smooth profile, rather than the more common perforated tile look. It still has high acoustic performance, with the panels able to absorb low and mid frequency sound in the plenum space, while the high frequencies are handled by porous acoustic veilings. Combined with an easy installation of screw attaching the panels to a ceiling suspension system the range is very useful anywhere that noise is an issue.

Unwelcome sounds are perhaps even a bigger issue in healthcare, where noises can be deeply disturbing and the atmosphere highly influential to the experience outcome.

Far from the institutionalised look of years ago, healthcare now embraces the dual roles of dramatic design and medical efficacy.

It’s a growing market not lost on Keystone who have rolled out an antifungal, antimicrobial additive that can be added to their ceiling (and lining) products.

USG Boral offers a number of products for sound absorption in this arena, including panels designed to deaden that awful corridor chaos and nurses station hub bub that disturbs both patients and staff.  Their USG Mars, Clima Plus Healthcare also offer a high NCR rating as well as antimicrobial performance, a welcome additive to an area where contagion is more than a movie title.

And again, the design from USG offers design options, with their just introduced range of coloured panels that will help not just brighten the atmosphere but will also serve to help delineate areas and assist with traffic wayfinding.

Also in this arena is Décor Systems., their product BioPanel is in demand for good reason. Mitchell Faulkes from Décor Systems explains.

“Bacteria explodes when it reaches the panel,” says Mitchell, who goes onto explain the ease of application for clients.

“It is a clear, invisible coating so it does not affect the acoustic or aesthetic qualities of the panels. It is perfect for health and food related projects.”

BioPanel is applied to prefinished panels before they leave the factory, essentially, according to Mitchell, acting as a road spike for any bacteria that lands on the panels.

Also in the Décor range is a very notable acoustic ceiling product, DécorLini which has an NCR rating of 9.1. Used  by TKD Architects in their design of the SCEGGS interim library project, the two step ceiling level change is deliciously curved into a wave form.

What may surprise some old school designers is the flexibility offered by these large, easy to install and effective panels. The use of curves in design being particularly useful in areas of stress such as healthcare and education – with straight lines possible received by the human brain as threatening, where the curve is, well, not.

Ceiling design as a calming presence

So for those of us who fear scholastic failure, and are filled with white hot dread at the thought of surgery (or even a dental filling) finding design planes gently folding above us is a relief from stress.

However, sometimes you have to let the panic go, and fill the void with delight at simply cool design in an area where chic is all but absent.

In fact it is harder to image a less likely place to discover monumental interior design than in a dental surgery – yet there are superb examples to be found, not the least of which is The Urban Dentist in Germany.

Designed by Studio Karhard, The Urban Dentist has the aesthetic of a cool bar, or top end store.

Concern for acoustic efficiency have been clearly superseded by the desire for a design experience, which in itself can be uplifting for nervy clients.

Raw cement slabs, gleaming and exposed HVAC channels, are offset by fluted glass walls and colour changing LED lights. The Studio Karhard architects describe the atmosphere as “industrial and indulgent”, with the raw construction elements balanced out by lollipop pinks and bold granite.

The effect is to make patients feel more like powerful, in control clients than withering patients.

But perhaps the most significant ceiling expression, is one that mimics having no ceiling at all. The perfect biophilic design – tricking the mind and body into believing that it is in fact so very, very close to the outside world.

In a scholastic space, it is a freeing experience; who remembers the delights of having a class take place in the school grounds? Energy levels increased, spirits elevated, and for that brief, shining period school was enjoyable.

Schools, universities colleges even research campuses are increasingly being built vertically, rather than sprawled cross expensive parcels of land. Light is harder to reach, and an undertone of claustrophobia is created.

Even more emotionally extreme is the effect of enclosure, and separation, experienced by patients in healthcare.

In the clinical environment, in particularly stressful areas such as nuclear medicine’s MRI zones, patients’ fears are escalated by a sense of separation from anything familiar or friendly.

It is in this area that LED lit panels are appearing. They mimic the most beautiful aspects of the outside world, a visual breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth if you will.

Visual perceptions of peace, serenity, and safety can all be found in a sky scape, with or without boughs of blossoms, shady trees, or Autumn leaves.

Sky Factory is an established name in the industry and has created countless escape hatches for stressed brains. A gallery of superb, ultra hi resolution photographic images are embedded in acrylic panels, with perfectly flat backlight illuminating the scene, easily included in a standard panel ceiling grid. And the use is expanded beyond operational areas.

According to Sky Factory a recent hospital room based test found that healing was faster, stress levels were measured to reduce by one third and anxiety levels were halved. There is also a flow on effect to staff and staff retention.

They also have a video or cinema product, at considerably greater expense, where an eight-hour loop of an sky can be offered to inhabitants.

Shifting of colour temperature is also achieved with programmable LEDs in the static panel configuration, which in itself can help in the growing area of [2]dementia care, where carers are more than familiar with patient agitation caused by the change in late afternoon and evening light qualities.

Sometimes there is only an upside to telling our brains a different story to the one we expect – after all what’s the harm in a little azure blue lie?


Innowood www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/innowood-australia-pty-ltd

Keystone Linings and Acoustics www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/keystone-acoustics

USG Boral www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/usg-boral

Décor Systems www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/decor-systems

Sky Factory www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/sky-factory-australia