Can a Glowing Porthole Heal the Sick?

French designer Mathieu Lehanneur created a porthole-inspired device for palliative hospital patients which projects an image of tomorrow’s weather forecast. Designed to provided hope for the seriously ill, the innovation begs the question: What if the forecast is rainy? Does weather have an effect on our mental state? And is it ethically wrong to project a sunny image to the terminally ill – even if the forecast calls for storms ahead?

Victorian art critic John Ruskin once mused that “sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” Perhaps John Ruskin was an optimist. More likely, he knew the value of the here and now.

Consisting of weather information aggregated in real time on the Internet, Lehanneur’s device is certainly technologically advanced. Currently programmed for Parisian skies, each “porthole” can be customized to reflect the patient’s desired location, whether they’re checking up on family in North Dakota or dreaming of beaches in Thailand. With the rise of light therapy and weather-related mood changes, the solution is a smart one.

“The luminous – atmospheric and impressionist – image of this sky is diffused through the network of a honeycomb structure, appearing both like a sculpture and a celestial globe,” Lehanneur explains. In other words, the design is a touch more appealing than your average Weather Channel.

And with hospital design gaining speed as an increasingly important concern across the globe, Lehanneur’s project is timely. A recent New York Times article profiled the work of mural artist Odili Donald Odita after finishing a 5,000 square-foot abstract painting onto the walls of New-York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan:

“[Odita] knew that unlike gallery browsers, patients would face his painting for hours and even days. He hoped someone staring at the complex shards might ‘allow the color to open up other ideas of possibilities or considerations of what might be going on in their life,’ he said.”

Lehanneur would undoubtedly agree. “I thought about how to enable a discussion … between the patient, the family and the medical profession in a context where it is difficult to talk about … the future. In a certain way, the idea was to talk about the current weather conditions to circumvent the question of the time remaining,” Lehanneur writes. “I also liked being a step ahead of death itself. Perhaps I will not be [here] tomorrow, but I know what tomorrow will look like.”

Image Credit: Mathieu Lehanneur / Carpenters Workshop Gallery

p.s. Just for fun: a cloud sculpture, cloud stool and clouds vs. dust bunnies.

  • Living mostly in London and not having seen the sun for weeks – I am just griefstricken thinking about the porthole being gray for weeks. I want a porthole that pretends to be so bright I need spf and shades.

    • @Coulda Shoulda Woulda – I thought the same thing! But I suppose you can always program it to a sunny island where the weather is a perfect 72… ;)

  • I’m an RN of 30 + years and I strongly believe the “window”, “weather”, “sunshine”, “wind” affects the way a patient feels both emotionally and physically. Patients are not usually completely aware of time during a serious illness or end of life period. The changing of the weather would not have to be real-time based but should not be unrealistically fast. All in all, SUPER idea!

  • I have no problems believing this. I discovered last year something amazing about my synesthesia ability. I see colors when I hear names and words. Since years I’m painting what I see. More and more people started recently to confirm that my synesthesia paintings emanate the energy of their names or of the word. I’ts like synesthesia has two effects.

  • I definitely see this as the future of art, where it not only serves as visual inspiration but it also helps us to cope with our cyber-busy-cloudy-indoor-office life. I mean, if a mood-lamp from costco kinda does the trick now, I can only imagine the potential of this porthole! Impressive.

  • @Gabriel – Amen to the indoor-office-life. When I was researching this article, I read that most seasonal affective disorder studies aren’t applicable because the participants spent less than 30 minutes outside PER DAY. (Guilty as charged.)

  • That is fascinating. As to your and Gabriel’s comments, I seriously need to try and get outdoors. Not living in a city that is conducive to much walking certainly interferes. Time to get creative.
    I love the description of the image being filtered through a “honeycomb like structure”

    • @Chelsea – I’m in the same boat; lots of driving and not a lot of walking/fresh air. Must rectify! :)

  • I know what would tooootally be awesome!! Just have the light source in the porthole be those special light therapy bulbs for seasonal affective disorder sufferers!! Then it won’t matter if it’s cloudy or not, because you will literally be getting the kind of rays you need to boost your endorphins, or whatever the heck it does.



  • Very cool. It reminds me of the installation at the Tate that had everyone sunbathing:

    As an artist who worked in hospice and palliative care for three years, I have to say that it’s lovely to bring the outdoors in to a hospital at all. I think cost would prohibit this from being used widely but the concept of it is deeply lovely.

  • That would be “have an effect,” not an “affect.” Just sayin.’

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