Crown Sky Garden: A Living Laboratory

The design of Lurie Children’s was based on the commitment to create a healing environment. As we learn in today’s guest blog by Paula Crown, the five-thousand square foot Crown Sky Garden that includes rows of bamboo trees, water and sound is the centerpiece of that commitment.

By Paula Crown

The Crown Sky Garden at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago was thoughtfully and carefully designed to be a unique oasis for patients and staff members that will proactively contribute to the hospital’s healing environment. My family has a long legacy of leadership at this hospital. I was privileged to be involved in the design and creation of Lurie Children’s in many ways, but none more significant than the sky garden that bears my family’s name.

The hospital undertook an international search and ultimately invited four of the world’s most influential landscape designers to come to Chicago and present their ideas. Mikyoung Kim was selected, not only based on her past works, but also on her unique interests merging years of research around child-centered play spaces and healing gardens. She is a mother with direct experience with children’s hospitals and is married to a pediatric radiologist, which gives her a unique prospective to the challenges of a hospital setting from multiple points of view.

Most importantly, Mikyoung’s collaborative approach to the design of the garden involved the guidance and support of our Kids Advisory Board and Family Advisory Board, with the advice and consent of the hospital’s Infection Prevention and Control Team, all of whom were integral to the evolving design and programing of the garden. From the very beginning of the design process, the Crown family emphasized the importance of Evidenced Based Design and the use of rigorous research methods to measure the impact of the healing garden. Funds and staff have been committed to this process.

The study, currently underway, will examine the effect of the Crown Sky Garden on parent and child anxiety and stress. The hospital is also a “Pebble Project” (a group of 50 hospitals around the world that are committed to studying specific innovations in hospital design) and will be sharing the research on the healing garden, once it is completed, so that other hospitals will learn from

One of the most important aspects in creating a garden in a children’s hospital environment is “do no harm” because of the large proportions of patients who may be immuno compromised. The hospital’s Infection Prevention and Control staff were very active participants in making sure that introducing plants and soil would not compromise our patients’ safety, particularly those patients who are immuno compromised. This meant that the garden had to be located in a public space, not in an inpatient space, but still accessible so that a patient who is cleared to go to the Sky Lobby has an opportunity to experience the garden. The access to soil and vegetation is also something that has to be minimized in a hospital setting, which Mikyoung did by placing the bamboo in the planters framed by the recycled resin planter walls with river rocks creating a protective barrier to the direct access to the soil and plants.

The central location on the 11th floor, adjacent to the hospital cafeteria and gift shop, also provides beautiful views of the city and lake, adding to the healing environment, while providing limited access to protect the patients, families, visitors and staff.  A “Tree House” on the 12th floor allows children to view the activity of the Garden from above while they are framed by the foliage of the bamboo and natural wood from the Chicago area.

One of the most challenging aspects of the Garden was to create many of the advantages of a water feature, but without the significant risks that water features have created in other institutions, such as Legionnaires’ Disease and the growth of other water-borne pathogens. To respond to these issues, the water feature has an internal UV system to make sure that the water remains free of bacteria and fungi that could be dangerous to immuno compromised children. In addition, the water bubbling system is fully enclosed by playful marble walls that allows the movement of water to maximize the healing elements of water without the potential of aerosolizing potentially dangerous microorganisms.

The success of any healing garden is the impact on the users.  The best example of its success was the day after all of the patients moved to the new facility. It was a Sunday evening and in the corner of the garden was a young girl wearing a patient bracelet with her brothers, sisters, mother and father.  Together, they ate dinner on the benches made out of the trees from the Columbian Exhibition of 1893, while putting a jigsaw puzzle together and watching the sun go down. Their smiles and contentment represent one of the many moments that we have seen in this healing garden, allowing for patients, their families, and the hard working staff and doctors a safe place of respite from the important work being done at Lurie Children’s every day.

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