Spinach on the walls

Blanka Jędra, Marek Kucharski

The Colour you are facing

Green is the colour of medicine. In catalogues of 1950-1975 medical equipment for radiotherapy, as well as furniture, clothes and equipment in surgery rooms were green. To these days, this trend continues in surgery, hospital rooms and clinics. But why is that?

This greenish hue first appeared in a hospital in San Francisco in 1914. The American surgeon Harry Sherman believed that the traditional white used during surgery is too bright and that its glow produced by the new lighting system reduces the ability to distinguish anatomical features during treatments. He developed the theory of “spinach green”. He claimed that this shade “matched” the red of haemoglobin in blood and thus relaxed the eyes, allowing to focus on the details and structure of the wound, without distracting the eye with external light. Theories began to emerge stating that the iron contained in the chlorophyll of the spinach has the same chemical configuration as the iron of the haemoglobin. Sherman himself, however, did not think that this theory was right. In the following years this colour has been widely recognized in medical environments.

The use of the green colour for medical purposes can also have a neuropsychological background and is a form of chromotherapy. Architect William Ludlow, who was dealing with the influence of colours on patients in hospitals, stated that “white is negative; the convalescent needs the therapeutic reaction of the positive colours that nature has spread so lavishly for her children. (…) Our eyes were made to find rest and contentment in soft greens, pale blues, an occasional touch of red, but above all, the glorious golden yellow of the sunshine.” Ludlow also claimed that white may be negatively associated with the so-called “white apron syndrome”, and green makes us rest.