As the landscape architect for a sensory garden at Elks Children’s Eye Clinic in Portland, Ore., Mayer/Reed (Portland) considered ways to create a welcoming environment for children whose sight may be limited.

The firm studied design opportunities for the new facility, which is adjacent to the Casey Eye Institute on the Oregon Health & Science University campus.

That process included posing questions to pediatric eye specialists. Questions addressed how tactile qualities and perceptions of color could help enrich the experience. They also explored how the site design could offer a sense of interest through color, textured surfaces, and nature elements.

The team learned that people with sight and those with sight impairments may have great variations in their interpretations of color. In response, Mayer/Reed sought to create a rainbow-colored feature wall in the sensory garden. There, kids could engage with the colors, however they interpreted them.

The firm commissioned a series of kiln-formed glass components from Portland’s Bullseye Studio. Each of the 14 color sets contain three different sized components for a total of 42 glass elements. The L-shaped colored glass pieces were installed on a rough-textured board-formed concrete retaining wall that leads to the main entry of the building.

The vibrant hues create visual interest, no matter the time of day, season, or weather. Meanwhile, variations in texture, shape, and pattern provide an intriguing tactile sensation at a height perfect for young hands.

The facility, which was completed in spring 2021 and designed by NBBJ (Seattle), also houses a courtyard. The courtyard was designed by Mayer/Reed with rich textural plants and scents of nature, providing a shaded respite space for patients, families, and staff.

Anne DiNardo is executive editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at