Inspired by Nature

During the design phase of our Inpatient Unit an Art Plan for the Hospice was developed by arts consultant Robert Livingston and sculptor Helen Denerley.  The theme of the plan is to 'make space for the natural environment'. The plan led to the Hospice adopting art objectives including:

  • Enhance patient care and facilities by placing a premium on the visual aesthetic of all aspects of the Hospice building.
  • Offer patients a range of opportunities for consolation, celebration, comfort and stimulation, through participating in or experiencing the arts.

Highland based art specialist Susan Christie was then engaged to ensure art and design was integrated into our new building and she enlisted a creative team to fulfil the project.

Building design

Our Inpatient Unit was designed by Ian Clarke of architectural practice JDDK.  Following detailed consultation, the building design makes the best use of natural light, creates a wide and curved circulation space with seating areas along its length, and stays clear of the straight lines and long corridors commonly seen in a healthcare environment. There was emphasis placed on the need to develop an interior which was ‘calming, clear and light’ and which supported patients with sight issues or who might experience confusion in interpreting their physical environment.

The approach to artwork was that it should be seen as integral and the aim stated by Ian was to ‘…extend beyond the conventional assumptions of wall hung work to include other possibilities…’

Inspired by Highland nature

At the end of 2015, Highland based curator/art specialist Susan Christie was engaged to deliver the Art Plan and enlisted award-winning designer Donna Wilson to collaborate on the interior of the building.

Unique artwork commissions and artist-designed features have been directly inspired by the Highland landscape and made for the Hospice buildings. From the light shimmering on the River Ness to the grandeur of the mountains of Coigach, inspiration from the landscape has been at the heart of what has influenced the colours and materials used by the artists and designers. 

The colour scheme

Crucially, the first aspect of this process was designing the colour scheme. Donna Wilson describes her thoughts:

‘For the hospice, the design ‘feel’ needed to be welcoming, cosy and comfortable as well as an inspiring place to be for the patients, their families and the staff and volunteers.

One of the most important things to me is the colour palette - the colours have been designed to be friendly and warm, a breath of life into a space that connects with nature and gives us a feeling of familiarity and home.

By making the floors ‘spring bud green’, the hospice instantly feels warm and there’s a sense of freshness around the building.  The rest of the colour palette was inspired by the staggering mountain ranges around the Glen Affric area and the beautiful Highland light in all the seasons.’

The text project

The Text Project is a collaboration between writer and poet, Melanie Challenger and artist and Edinburgh School of Art lecturer, Mike Inglis.  Melanie was commissioned to write a poem for the Hospice and Mike to install designed text elements at key locations throughout main reception and the Unit.  The full poem is displayed on the wall of the tower in reception.   Fragments and phrases from the poem are displayed on the internal walls and glass of the new hospice to increase the flow and encourage people to feel comfortable moving around the building.

The poem, entitled Suilven, works on a number of levels from the idea of going on a journey up the mountain to engaging with memory and time.  Suilven is a highly distinctive landform within the Highland landscape and Melanie alludes to the way that the outline dominates. The gentle rhythm of the poem brings to mind the pace of walking up the mountain and the outline of the words, if you turn the text, visually conjures up the shape of Suilven. Melanie states: 'There is no one specific explanation for the poem. I would prefer for people to respond in their own way; either to the rhythm and sound and images of the whole or perhaps to certain parts that resonate.'

Mike Inglis has sensitively designed fragments and echoes of text from the poem that help unify the interior space and subtly enhance the experience of moving through it.  In some instances, the fragments of text are almost invisible or very subtle (i.e. on glass in corridors, at the top of the circular stairwell) whereas in other locations they have been deliberately designed to pull you in and to be visually striking.  Mike states: ‘When I pulled the poem apart I tried to imagine what happens in a rockfall with large fragments of stone tumbling down the mountainside and then afterwards there is an echo of that falling stone.'

The reception desks

It is important to the project that art and design is integrated into the 'everyday' of the building and not merely tacked on.  The two desks in main reception and in the Netley Centre were designed and made by local designer and furniture-maker, Darren Barclay.  Darren's desks are made from solid oak and feature gentle curves that echo the ripples of the River Ness adjacent to the Hospice.  These desks were the culmination of a detailed consultation process by Darren to ensure that the furniture complements the space, meets building control requirements, are practical for all the users and chime with other design elements in the reception area.

The windows

Black-Isled based visual artist Erlend Tait has designed three windows for the new buildings - two for the Visitors’ Lounge and one for the Sanctuary. These have been created with different factors in mind and emphasis has been placed on using materials and colours to create beautiful features that enliven the spaces.

  • In the Visitors’ Lounge the specific colours used by Erlend have been taken from the palette formulated by Donna Wilson and inspired by Glen Affric.
  • The square window in the Sanctuary features the distinctive outline of the Coigach Mountains and in particular the shape of Suilven can be recognised.

The windblown tree

A massive windblown tree with a highly textured surface and an extract of text from Melanie Challenger’s poem Suilven hugs the wall in the Patients’ Lounge. This artwork was designed specially for the room by Donna Wilson: ‘Trees have great symbolic meaning. This design was inspired directly from my journey and travels around Coigach where the wind-blown forms were a strong visual presence in the landscape. Trees share how they have lived and their imperfections make them beautiful and unique; they are resilient in the landscape and adapt to their surroundings.’

The curved wall

The long curved wall in the Inpatient Unit is a distinctive element of the building design that has been covered with a highly textured abstract watercolour landscape by Donna Wilson.   The image on the curve leads you through the space and features numerous tones of green and magenta.  This strongly coloured and highly textured surface has been designed to add contrast to and enliven the straight lines and geometry of the opposite wall of the corridor. The soft organic shapes and colour it provides help to make the building feel warm and inviting.

The 'Wall of Thanks'

Even when coming to thank the supporters of our Project Build Appeal, which raised £4.5m between 2013 and 2016, we looked to create an nature-inspired artwork.  Graphic designers Burgess and Beech came up with the simple but beautiful idea of engraving donor names on slices of tree.  Our 'wall of thanks' is positioned in the lobby at the front entrance and both draws the visitors eye from a distance across the car park and offers an interesting read as you enter or leave the building.  Burgess and Beech also designed the signs at the gates as you enter our car parks; these are shown in the gallery below.

The Sanctuary

Designed by the architect, Ian Clarke, to be a spiritual space for those of all faiths and of none, the Sanctuary is a room at the literal and metaphorical heart of the Hospice. The team of artists led by Susan Christie collaborated to decorate and furnish the room to respond to the need for quiet time when families, staff or volunteers might want to retreat, take a breath or remove themselves from a clinical setting.

Adorning the rear wall of the Sanctuary are three large appliquéd panels designed by textile artist Jennifer Cantwell and inspired by the River Ness.  The panels reflect her personal observations of the river at different times of day, and at different times of the year.

  • The left panel depicts rain on water
  • The middle panel depicts light on water
  • The right panel depicts wind on water

The Sanctuary also features windows by Erlend Tait, cushions and other items designed by Donna Wilson, a collection of books and a wall of artworks curated by Susan Christie and Kirsten Body around the nature theme that threads throughout the Hospice.  This theme is also reflected in a similar collection of pieces in the corridor leading to the room.


We would like to thank all the artists and designers for their support of this project. There is no doubt that their creativity and enthusiasm has allowed us to provide a unique and inspiring environment for our patients, families, staff and volunteers.

We would also like to thank the members of The Highland Society of London for raising funds to support the installation of Erlend Tait's windows and Creative Scotland for funding the original Art Plan which kick-started the project.

More images of the art and design features in Highland Hospice

Here is a selection of images from the art and design installations described above.

Photographs by Colin Heggie and Alison White.