Physical Space + Interior Emotional Space

Two weeks ago my adorable nephew who was diagnosed with Leukemia ALL. Awful. Devastating. Hopeful.

I headed to Ohio a few days after his diagnosis to snuggle with the little guy in his room on the oncology floor at Children's Hospital in Columbus.  I was met with profound worry and fear from my brother and sister-in-law, a sunny and 75 degree disposition from my  nephew and a hospital that clearly has made the connections between healing and architecture. I'm deeply concerned about my little nephew, and, at the same time, kind of obsessed with this public, healing space.

Here is what World Landscape Architecture, who crafted the grounds of the hospital, says about the interior and exterior of Children's:

Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio is envisioned as a ‘Landscape of Healing’.  The project expands the principles of therapeutic gardens to the entire health care campus and neighboring community. The MKSK/OLIN team worked closely with the hospital architects, FKP, to integrate holistically with the landscape.

As a key principle of the design, relationships between exterior and interior spaces establish a sense of continuity and a visual connection from the inside to the lush natural materials and plants outdoors. With the theme of “a Hospital in a Park, a Park in the Hospital”, nature is carried throughout the interior with natural wood textures and imagery of animals, birds and butterflies connect people to the outdoors. The interior corridor opens a bright visual connection to the outdoors, constantly linking the user to the exterior garden.

The MKSK/OLIN team designed over six acres of greenspace, healing gardens and surrounding campus for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, one of the largest pediatric hospitals and research institutes in the United States. Design emphasis for the new 6 acre children’s park is placed upon the beneficial aspects of creating an environmentally vibrant setting for the hospital in a park that is in effect a ‘healing’ garden as well as a community amenity. This new landscape space also extends historic 9.3 acre Livingston Park providing a continuous perimeter for the entire hospital campus. Within the new children’s park a series of healing gardens provides an amenity that is enjoyed by young patients, their families, the medical staff and neighbors. A sensory-rich maze of plantings includes lemon and chocolate mints, wild thyme, fluffy lamb’s ear, and colorful cone flowers. The gardens also include a central shady sitting area with playful seating elements, children’s climbing mounds, outdoor children’s chalk boards, an intimate area for storytelling, a moonlight garden that extends the use of the site into the evening, and an outdoor dining terrace.

The district’s primary corridors, Livingston and Parsons Avenues, were transformed into grand, canopied, civic boulevards of London Planetree, Sawtooth Oaks, and Triumph Elms. The avenues have also been re-graded to better integrate utility corridors and introduce bio-filtration rain gardens, which help absorb and filter street and sidewalk stormwater runoff. At the Parsons and Livingston intersection a luminous ‘Grove of Light,’ consisting of a series of illuminated vertical masts, defines the entry into the hospital campus.

The walls. Ceilings. Public Streets. Grass. Seating Areas. Waterfall Sounds. Bird Chirping Sounds.....it's an incredible intersection of healing, extending the experience of healing into the streets. Literally. It pushed me to ask, "when does healing begin?" When the IV with fluids started to flow into my nephew's chest port? Or when my brother and sister-in-law drove with great fear to the hospital, being met with vivid, intentional lights along the streets outside the building?

And the chapel at Children's Hospital in Columbus? Ugly. So friggin', effin' ugly. Stupid. Dumb. Ugly. Using more diplomatic words, "not my style." Dark wood. Book shelves. Adult size chairs. Low ceiling. Chairs with curtain like fabric. Chapel fail. Any anger about Crosby getting leukemia was instantly directed towards this chapel and it's complete disconnect with the rest of the hospital.

This new building at Children's was created because the old building suffered from isolation and obstructed access. Sounds like an outdated Church building + boring sanctuary.

Space matters in liturgy. When I walked into the hospital, I felt so hopeful about my nephew---he can heal here. I walked into the chapel and ran out--totally suffocating.  Healing and transformation can be experienced through a space like Children's (and I'm not talking about the chapel)  where people get this vital connection of interior and exterior--spatial and human.