When Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital had the chance to relocate in Boston and build a facility that’s custom tailored to its needs and patient population, it took full advantage of the opportunity, adding new programs such as aquatic therapy, bringing tons of natural light into patient rooms and public areas, and even opening up the windows in the gymnasium to give patients some fresh air while doing exercises.

But these efforts and ideas weren’t confined to the interiors only. Attention was also paid to the three-acre site where Spaulding worked with Copley Wolff Design Group (Boston) to create a landscape design befitting a rehabilitation hospital.

Sean Sanger, principal, Copley Wolff Design Group, says the design team wanted to deliver an outdoor therapeutic program that addressed the physical and mental rehabilitation needs of patients. However, the vertical and narrow building site presented some challenges.

“The majority of the space is either the building itself or the day-to-day functional, whether it’s access to the parking garage or a service component,” Sanger says.

So the design team took a “four-sided building approach” and applied outdoor elements to each. For example, the harbor side includes therapy trails with various paving materials and ramp heights so patients can work with their therapists in various settings as their abilities improve.

On the south-facing side, a terrace off the first-floor café provides a place for staff and patients to sit outside, and can be reconfigured to host staff meetings and community events.  Another side features planted beds and a bright yellow sculpture.

It's the approach on the north side of the building that really stands out.

Instead of settling for a paved service area strictly for deliveries or garbage pickups, designers decided to turn the space into a multipurpose hard-surface play area, complete with adjustable-height basketball hoops. There’s also has room for a putting green and a seven-foot tall wall mounted with stainless-steel playground pieces for upper body activities. Schedules are coordinated so building services and therapeutic programming don’t overlap.

“In a lot of buildings the service side area becomes the back yard, but here we were able to treat the landscape and hardscape, making it multipurpose,” he says.

This holistic approach allows Spaulding Rehabilitation to offer a variety of programs to patients and increase their opportunities to practice the real-world skills they need to re-master before leaving the facility.

It’s also a reminder for designers, space planners, and owners to let no space go wasted. Where have you seen creative thinking transform an underused space in healthcare design?