The newly opened $1.1 billion Bloomberg Children’s Center and Sheikh Zayed Tower at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, signals one of many highlights in the hospital’s history. With a focus on delivering an environment that promotes healing and high levels of care, and offers staff a calm workplace, Johns Hopkins Hospital brought together a team that could help translate these qualities through the design of the building and in the exterior space.

Landscape architects, OLIN, translated the welcoming atmosphere of art, light, calm, and color inside the hospital to the outdoor areas. “Many of the patterns are meant to be seen from above in broad horizontal strokes and all the colors and textures. The seasonality of it was also very important,” says OLIN Partner Susan Weiler. Their work encompassed not only the plantings but also the site work for everything outside the building.

Although the hospital is located on a tight urban site, the garden space spans the length of a football field. The landscape architects were able to design the gardens in such a way that complements the flow of the circulation pattern. “The ability to organize the circulation in a different way allowed us to have some flexibility. We designed a system that enabled us to keep a third of the space for gardens and the rest for pick-up, drop-off, emergency and other entrances, while still maintaining clear sight lines and a proper turning radii for cars,” says Weiler.

The garden site provided a fun challenge for OLIN due to the long linear space which slopes away from the face of the building down to the curb. In answer to this challenge, which would have made accessibility difficult for certain patient and visitor populations, the design provides a series of pathways at a mild gradient for each of the different gardens.

The paving materials used throughout the outdoor space capture light and create an inviting and relaxing atmosphere. “We were able to use beautiful materials such as Swiss quartzite, bluestone, and brick among others. We used these materials and more for the curbs, benches, paths, and fountains. The materials are also very durable," says Weiler.

All the gardens are designed to express different moods or to tell a story to which people can relate. For example, the Meditation Garden features a blade water fountain as well as some reflection pools where people can sit and find respite. The Phipps Courtyard, located near the historic Phipps building, can be accessed from the hospital’s cafeteria. A small enclosed garden within the Phipps Courtyard, named the “Little Prince Garden”, features elements inspired by a children’s book of the same name. The space includes little volcanoes, asteroids, little child-height fountains, and even a “bird trellis” on a moveable track that children can play with and imagine the birds in flight. The donors of the garden are the parents of a little girl who loved the story of the Little Prince and so OLIN found a way to depict some of highlights of the endearing tale through the colors and textures of plantings and materials in her memory.

Working within the constraints of the Baltimore climate, OLIN chose plants, paving, and other materials that could not only withstand the bouts of mild and extreme temperatures but also be easily maintained. “We have helped in writing a detailed maintenance manual for the hospital to help the staff responsible for the upkeep of the exterior to maintain and care for the spaces. We worked with them and listened to understand their concerns right from the beginning,” explains Weiler.

All the gardens give patients, visitors, and staff the opportunity to walk around and be active, a place to sit or lie down and watch the world go by, or areas within each garden to be alone with one’s thoughts in solitude or to have quiet, private conversations. The recently sown plants will mature to harmonize and balance the young trees and shrubs which will offer shade or retreat.

Johns Hopkins Hospital sought to bring the outside in and to create healing spaces outdoors where people could find ways to connect with nature on a personal level. As more hospitals begin to understand the importance of this connection, it will only serve to enhance the care provided in the hospital.