Dr Rebecca McLaughlan

Dr Rebecca McLaughlan


School of Architecture and Built Environment (Architecture)

Designing hospitals that support patient health

An expert in architectural design and theory, Dr Rebecca McLaughlan’s research shows a fascinating link between the built environment, our experiences of healthcare and a patient’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

Image of Rebecca McLaughlan

We might not always notice its effects, but the built environment can alter our mood and behaviour in subtle but significant ways.

A confined, busy room can heighten an already stressful situation. An echoey open space can intrude on our privacy. Dr Rebecca McLaughlan explains that in healthcare settings such as hospitals, the built environment can have a surprisingly powerful influence on the experiences of a patient, their family and medical team.

“Architects have long understood that the quality of the built environment can have a profound effect on people and their wellbeing. If people feel uncomfortable in an environment, the ramifications of that discomfort may be severe, even if this is difficult to measure.

“For example, imagine having to sit for days in a hospital room you really dislike. Would this make you feel agitated? Would you feel encouraged to sit past visiting hours or would you be in a hurry to get out of there?

“Or imagine trying to process complex information in the middle of a hospital’s circulation space. Would you feel like you could take the time to ask all of the questions that you had?”

As an experienced architect and esteemed researcher, Rebecca is particularly interested in how the built environment impacts people during times of intense vulnerability. This includes mental health, palliative and paediatric patients and their support networks.

“My work seeks to understand how the built environment can better support people through these difficult life experiences.”

Keeping children engaged in care

According to Rebecca, researchers are just beginning to uncover the many ways in which the built environment can impact patient wellbeing.

For example, over the last decade or so, architects have been encouraged to create ‘positive distractions’ within healthcare environments—such as gardens, artworks or aquariums—to distract patients from the stresses associated with their illness.

While the value of a distraction was originally understood by the length of time it could hold a patient’s attention, Rebecca’s recent research has uncovered evidence for engaging people—especially children—in new ways.

“In a study recently conducted at the Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital— undertaken by a team at the University of Melbourne (where I was previously working) in partnership with Lyons Architects – we found that the value of distraction was different for kids.

“By putting features into a hospital that kids wouldn’t expect to find there—such as movie theatres, aquariums and animal enclosures—it didn’t just distract them, it reframed for them the very idea of a hospital.”

Creating interesting spaces within hospitals can have a strategic impact on children’s long-term health by keeping them engaged in care.

“These interesting spaces made kids more willing, even excited, to return for their follow-up appointments.

“Discovering that architectural strategies can shift perceptions so significantly that kids actually want to visit a hospital is meaningful since absenteeism from follow-up appointments can exacerbate the severity and cost of medical treatment.”

Insights from researchers such as Rebecca and her collaborators are contributing to a growing evidence base that can inform the architectural designs of the future. As a result, hospitals are paying increasingly close attention to their built environment as an important factor for patient health and outcomes.

“Our research will provide evidence for those who design and commission hospitals regarding the importance of including unique features when setting construction budgets for new healthcare facilities.”

Architecture with empathy

In 2019, Rebecca brought her valuable research expertise to the University of Newcastle. The Newcastle region, she explains, provides a perfect position from which to connect with hospitals and key health providers along Australia’s east coast.

The University also offered Rebecca a tight-knit research community that could support her most recent research focus: examining the environments in which palliative care is delivered.

“Dying or losing a loved one is one of the most difficult challenges we must face. Yet contemporary architectural responses seldom acknowledge this.

“Palliative care is often delivered within hospital wards of the same, standard design used throughout the hospital. This architecture does nothing to alleviate the stresses of these life experiences and can actually exacerbate it.”

Supported by a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) fellowship from the Australian Research Council, Rebecca’s research project aims to discover how palliative care spaces can be redesigned to better suit the physical and emotional needs of patients and their families. Rebecca says the project is also motivated by personal experience.

“I’ve observed life-altering diagnoses delivered in busy hospital corridors where anyone could overhear them. I’ve found myself having to communicate devastating news over the phone to friends and family members while standing in a corridor wedged between a laundry room and a kitchenette. Architecture can offer so much more than this.

“My DECRA project will find out what patients, their families and medical teams need from their built environment and how the complexities of project procurement (budgets, policy, procedures around project briefing, etc) must be navigated to enable better environments for palliative care to be built.”

Overcoming roadblocks to success

Alongside hospital procurement complexities, one of the biggest challenges in Rebecca’s research is the ability to accurately measure the emotional impact of the built environment.

“We can measure things like the distance a nurse must walk during a day, or how the relationship of one space to another can impact communication between medical teams. But the question of how our built environment makes us feel is much more complex.

“To date, no one has developed a measurement tool sophisticated enough to quantify this with any certainty.

“Subjectivity also makes measurement more complicated. People bring different life experiences, preferences and associations when responding to the built environment. Is one set of design guidelines even capable of responding to people from different cultures, for example?”

Fortunately, Rebecca and her collaborators are committed to uncovering solutions, asking the tough questions and championing the often-misunderstood role of architecture in healthcare.

“Architecture impacts the delivery of medical care in subtle but significant ways and few researchers are asking these types of difficult questions, even though we know they can impact people on a very personal level.

“There will be no easy solutions, but my DECRA project hopes to unravel these complexities a little further, to bring the field closer to a fuller understanding of how design can be used to benefit patients and families.”

Image of Rebecca McLaughlan

Designing hospitals that support patient health

An expert in architectural design and theory, Dr Rebecca McLaughlan’s research shows a fascinating link between the built environment, our experiences of healthcare and a patient’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

Read more

Career Summary


Across palliative care, mental health, oncology, and paediatric health care, my research investigates the perception and use of healthcare spaces. How do healthcare environments make people feel, how can they best support staff in their delivery of patient care, and - with particular relevance for palliative and mental health care settings - how can design assist in encouraging greater engagement with healthcare services?

Importantly, once we have this knowledge, how can it be successfully translated into practice; accounting for changing models of patient care, evolving technology, procurement practices, stakeholder expectations, and the political and economic climates that ultimately determine what design solutions are possible for healthcare buildings.

I currently hold an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellowship to look closely at the design of palliative care environments. This work is being undertaken in collaboration with St Vincent's Healthcare, Hammondcare, Monash Health and Calvary Mater. Find out more about that project at: palliativecare.design

This work builds on a broader body of research undertaken at the intersection of architecture, medicine, pedagogy and practice; and is motivated by the suspicion that architecture’s influence is most pronounced during times of intense vulnerability.


  • Doctor of Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington
  • Bachelor of Architecture, University of Auckland - NZ
  • Graduate Certificate in University Teaching, University of Melbourne


  • Architectural design, history & theory
  • Architectural pedagogy
  • Ethics of architectural and research practice
  • Healthcare environments
  • Palliative care

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
330102 Architectural design 50
330104 Architectural history, theory and criticism 30
330306 Design practice and methods 20

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Architecture and Built Environment

Academic appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/1/2018 - 1/2/2019 Lecturer in Architectural Design University of Melbourne
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning
4/5/2015 - 31/12/2017 Research Fellow : Design for Wellbeing ARC-linkage project with Lyons Architects University of Melbourne
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning



Year Award
2018 Best Research Paper, European Healthcare Design Conference 2018
European Healthcare Design Awards
2012 Postgraduate Research Excellence Award
Victoria University of Wellington


For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.

Journal article (24 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2021 McLaughlan R, Kirby E, 'Palliative care environments for patient, family and staff well-being: an ethnographic study of non-standard design.', BMJ Support Palliat Care, (2021)
DOI 10.1136/bmjspcare-2021-003159
2021 McLaughlan R, Pert A, Lodge JM, 'Productive Uncertainty: The Pedagogical Benefits of Co-Creating Research in the Design Studio', INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ART & DESIGN EDUCATION, 40 184-200 (2021) [C1]
DOI 10.1111/jade.12344
2021 Kirby E, McLaughlan R, Wallworth L, Chappell L, Bellemore F, Chye R, 'Connection, comfort and COVID-19 in palliative care', Palliative Care and Social Practice, 15 263235242110013-263235242110013 (2021)
DOI 10.1177/26323524211001389
2020 McLaughlan R, Pert A, 'Briefing a children's hospice: bridging the evidence gap and redefining value in contemporary healthcare design', ARQ-ARCHITECTURAL RESEARCH QUARTERLY, 24 265-276 (2020) [C1]
DOI 10.1017/S1359135520000275
2020 McLaughlan R, Chatterjee I, 'What Works in the Architecture Studio? Five Strategies for Optimising Student Learning', International Journal of Art and Design Education, 39 550-564 (2020) [C1]
DOI 10.1111/jade.12303
Citations Scopus - 4Web of Science - 4
2020 McLaughlan R, 'Book review: Laboratory: Speaking of Science and Its Architecture', Fabrications, 30 291-293 (2020)
DOI 10.1080/10331867.2020.1758295
2019 McLaughlan R, Sadek A, Willis J, 'Attractions to Fuel the Imagination: Reframing Understandings of the Role of Distraction Relative to Well-Being in the Pediatric Hospital', HERD-HEALTH ENVIRONMENTS RESEARCH & DESIGN JOURNAL, 12 130-146 (2019)
DOI 10.1177/1937586718810878
Citations Scopus - 4Web of Science - 3
DOI 10.1080/10331867.2018.1539944
2019 McLaughlan R, Lodge JM, 'Facilitating epistemic fluency through design thinking: a strategy for the broader application of studio pedagogy within higher education', TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION, 24 81-97 (2019)
DOI 10.1080/13562517.2018.1461621
Citations Scopus - 12Web of Science - 11
2019 McLaughlan R, 'Virtual reality as a research method: Is this the future of photo-elicitation?', Visual Studies, 34 252-265 (2019) [C1]
DOI 10.1080/1472586X.2019.1680315
Citations Scopus - 1Web of Science - 1
2018 McLaughlan R, Liddicoat S, 'Evidence and affect: employing virtual reality to probe what s missing from evidence-based design research', Design for Health, 2 285-304 (2018)
DOI 10.1080/24735132.2018.1541432
2018 McLaughlan R, Annear M, Pert A, 'Dementia, ageing, and the city: learning from the streets of Melbourne', ARQ-ARCHITECTURAL RESEARCH QUARTERLY, 22 105-114 (2018)
DOI 10.1017/S1359135518000350
Citations Web of Science - 2
2018 McLaughlan R, Pert A, 'Evidence and speculation: reimagining approaches to architecture and research within the paediatric hospital', MEDICAL HUMANITIES, 44 146-152 (2018)
DOI 10.1136/medhum-2017-011285
Citations Web of Science - 4
2018 McLaughlan R, 'Psychosocially Supportive Design: The Case for Greater Attention to Social Space Within the Pediatric Hospital', HERD-HEALTH ENVIRONMENTS RESEARCH & DESIGN JOURNAL, 11 151-162 (2018)
DOI 10.1177/1937586717731739
Citations Web of Science - 9
2018 McLaughlan R, 'Towards an Ethic of Reciprocity: The Messy Business of Co-creating Research with Voices from the Archive', CULTURAL STUDIES REVIEW, 24 39-55 (2018)
DOI 10.5130/csr.v24i2.5896
Citations Web of Science - 1
2017 McLaughlan RJ, 'In Defence of Theodore Gray: Architecture as a Vehicle for Re-evaluating a Doctor's Commitment to Patient Care', HEALTH AND HISTORY, 19 20-43 (2017)
Citations Web of Science - 1
2017 McLaughlan R, 'Learning from evidence-based medicine: exclusions and opportunities within health care environments research', Design for Health, 1 210-228 (2017)
DOI 10.1080/24735132.2017.1386923
2017 McLaughlan R, 'Re-contextualising Criticisms of Colonial Asylum Building in the Mid to Late Nineteenth Century: The Case of Lawson's Seacliff Asylum', FABRICATIONS-THE JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY OF ARCHITECTURAL HISTORIANS AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND, 27 22-46 (2017)
DOI 10.1080/10331867.2016.1258960
Citations Scopus - 1
2015 McLaughlan R, 'Corrupting the Asylum: The Diminishing Role of the Architect in the Design of Curative Environments for Mental Illness in New Zealand', ARCHITECTURAL THEORY REVIEW, 20 180-201 (2015)
DOI 10.1080/13264826.2016.1146316
2014 McLaughlan R, 'Editing for Public Consumption: The Use of Documentary Film in the Promotion of New Zealand s Mental Hospitals', Forum: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture and the Arts, Special Issue 1-18 (2014)
2012 McLauglan R, 'Post-rationalisation and Misunderstanding: Mental Hospital Architecture in the New Zealand Media', Fabrications, 22 232-256 (2012)
DOI 10.1080/10331867.2012.733162
Annear M, Shimizu Y, Kidokoro T, McLaughlan R, 'Constructing legacy: walking audits of the leisure time physical activity potential of Tokyo Olympic venues and their urban milieu', Annals of Leisure Research, 1-25
DOI 10.1080/11745398.2020.1867591
Mclaughlan R, Lyon C, Jaskolska D, 'Architecture as change-agent? Looking for innovation in contemporary forensic psychiatric hospital design', Medical Humanities,
DOI 10.1136/medhum-2020-011887
McLaughlan R, Willis J, 'Atmospheric inclusiveness: creating a coherent and relatable sense of place for a children s hospital', The Journal of Architecture, 1-22
DOI 10.1080/13602365.2021.1993964
Show 21 more journal articles

Review (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2019 McLaughlan R, 'Book review: Healing Spaces, Modern Architecture, and the Body (2019)
DOI 10.1080/10331867.2019.1572295

Conference (9 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2020 McLaughlan R, Lyon C, Jaskolska D, 'Interrogating the desktop precedent study : A predominant but little discussed research method in contemporary healthcare facilities design', Interrogating the desktop precedent study : a predominant but little discussed research method in contemporary healthcare facilities design, Royal College of Physicians, London (2020)
2019 McLaughlan R, Garduno Freeman C, ' You can t say that at SAHANZ : Critical nearness and the role of autoethnography in architectural history', Distance Looks Back. Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, University of Sydney (2019) [E1]
2018 McLaughlan R, Liddicoat S, 'Agency in the paediatric hospital: Architectural strategies to support independence and empowerment', European Healthcare Design Conference Proceedings, Royal College of Physicians, London (2018)
2017 McLaughlan R, Liddicoat S, 'Boler's Pedagogy of Discomfort: Examining a Turn of the Century Idea for Contemporary Architectural Education', Architectural Science Association Conference Proceedings, Wellington (2017)
2017 McLaughlan R, Pert A, Goad P, 'Evidence and borrowing: Conversations with eight architects on the use of evidence and innovation in contemporary healthcare facilities', Design 4 Health Conference Proceedings, Melbourne (2017)
2016 Cauldwell C, McLaughlan R, 'Discursive Decay: Informalised Architectural History', Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians Australia and New Zealand: 33, Gold, Melbourne (2016)
2015 McLaughlan R, 'The Role of Professional Marginalisation in the Development of New Zealand s Mental Hospital Architecture 1927-1971', Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 32, Architecture, Institutions and Change, Sydney (2015)
2013 McLaughlan R, 'Conflicts in the Control of Fear: from the Archives of the New Zealand Mental Hospitals Department', Conference Proceedings: 7th Global Conference of Fear, Horror and Terror, University of Oxford (2013)
2012 McLaughlan R, 'Farewell to the Bad Old Days: Architecture s Curtain Call on the Myths of Mental Health Care', Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Working Paper Series: Myth in Design Theory and Practice (2012)
Show 6 more conferences

Other (4 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2017 McLaughlan R, 'Post Occupancy Evaluation and Methodological Straightjackets', ( issue.Parallel Practices pp.16-17). Melbourne: AIA, Victoria Chapter (2017)
2017 McLaughlan R, Pert A, 'Review of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre', ( issue.2 pp.24-32) (2017)
2016 McLaughlan R, 'The Past Awaits: An Open Letter to the Rebuilders of Christchurch', ( pp.32-35): New Zealand Institute of Architects (2016)
2003 McLaughlan R, 'Requiem for an Icon: Peter Beaven s 1974 Commonwealth Games Stadium', ( pp.102-103): New Zealand Instiute of Architects (2003)
Show 1 more other

Grants and Funding


Number of grants 5
Total funding $521,459

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.

20191 grants / $436,159

Designing for early engagement and wellbeing in palliative care$436,159

Facing death, either one's own or that of a close family member, is one of life's most difficult experiences. This project will generate design guidelines for architects working in the healthcare sector with a focus on understanding how design can be used to better support patients, their family members and health care teams through end-of-life events. Architecture has the capacity to facilitate better communication, social support and safe, efficient patient care.

Funding body: ARC (Australian Research Council)

Funding body ARC (Australian Research Council)
Project Team Doctor Rebecca McLaughlan, Doctor Rebecca McLaughlan
Scheme Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA)
Role Lead
Funding Start 2019
Funding Finish 2021
GNo G1900192
Type Of Funding C1200 - Aust Competitive - ARC
Category 1200

20172 grants / $40,400

The Transdicisplinary Design Studio: Piloting a Framework for Epistemic Fluency$20,600

This grant funded a pilot subject that bought together students from three different disciplines to work in teams to propose new solutions for the field of palliative care. It utilised interdisciplinary, collaborative, peer-directed teaching and learning to expose students to different disciplinary understandings and ways of working; aimed to improve their communication and collaboration skills; and drew upon the existing strengths of the studio environment in equipping students to make better evaluative decisions.

Funding body: The University of Melbourne

Funding body The University of Melbourne
Project Team

Dr Rebecca McLaughlan, Associate Professor Jason Lodge, Professor Jennifer Philip, Mr Stefano Scalzo, Dr Mark Boughey, Professor Julie Bernhardt, Professor Alan Pert, Professor Tamara Kohn, Dr Rachel Marsden

Scheme Learning and Teaching Initiatives Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2017
Funding Finish 2018
Type Of Funding Not Known
Category UNKN

Resourcing Sessional Teachers to Deliver Exceptional Architectural Studio Teaching$19,800

This project captured the teaching practices of eight high-performing architectural studio leaders the Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne. This data is currently being used to create a professional development programme for sessional teaching staff and will be published within academic journals to contribute applied knowledge regarding best teaching practice to the field of architectural pedagogy. 

Funding body: The University of Melbourne

Funding body The University of Melbourne
Project Team

Dr Rebecca McLaughlan, Professor Alan Pert, Professor Don Bates, Associate Professor Chi Baik

Scheme Learning and Teaching Initiatives Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2017
Funding Finish 2018
Type Of Funding Not Known
Category UNKN

20161 grants / $24,900

Overcoming the Current Limitations of Evidence Based Design Research Using Virtual Reality$24,900

This pilot project capitalised on the increasing accessibility of virtual reality technology to advance the research methods currently available in the field of Evidence Based Design. The intent was to better understand subjective responses of non-architects to the environments that architects create.

Funding body: The University of Melbourne

Funding body The University of Melbourne
Project Team

Rebecca McLaughlan

Scheme Early Career Researcher Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2018
Type Of Funding Not Known
Category UNKN

20151 grants / $20,000

Australian Youth Humanities Forum$20,000

This grant funded a two-day event for seventy-five VCA students interested in studying in the humanities with the aim of combating inequalities in access to higher education and furthering the discourse regarding the value of a humanities degree.

Funding body: The University of Melbourne

Funding body The University of Melbourne
Project Team

Dr Bridget Vincent, Dr Rebecca McLaughlan

Scheme Equity Innovation Grant
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2016
Type Of Funding Not Known
Category UNKN

Dr Rebecca McLaughlan


School of Architecture and Built Environment
College of Engineering, Science and Environment

Focus area


Contact Details

Email rebecca.mclaughlan@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 405 53016
Fax (02) 492 16913


Room AG15
Building Architecture
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308