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Over 70 artists, a curator, and architects incorporate art and architecture to enhance healing process for young patients

The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital - Opens May 1, 2012

Bloomberg Philanthropies

Baltimore, MD—Designed to inspire, and carved into the landscape with art inside and out, the new Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital is the result of a unique and close collaboration between artists from across the country, a curator, a group of architects, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Johns Hopkins. Together, the team has helped to create not just a state-of-the-art medical facility but also a haven and place of healing that will feature more than 500 works of art created specially for the facility by over 70 artists.

The Bloomberg Children’s Center is part of the new Johns Hopkins Hospital and one of the nation’s largest hospital construction projects. When it opens in May 2012, the new 205-bed Children’s Center will transform the idea of care and community through art, design and functionality.

The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center is named in honor of the mother of
Michael R. Bloomberg—philanthropist, Hopkins alumnus, and Mayor of New York City—who contributed significant resources to make the facility and this creative collaboration come to life.

Because hospitals are often accessed only during times of crisis, the design of the building and the integration of artworks specially created for the Bloomberg Children’s Center is integral to the mission of the institution, which seeks to bring comfort and healing to both the pediatric patient and their loved ones. The Bloomberg Children’s Center may serve as a blueprint for other facilities interested in adopting a similar approach.

“The goal is to create a humane and dignified experience for those under stress,” says Michael Iati, senior director of architecture and planning, Johns Hopkins Health System. “The art created for the building and the building’s design are central to elevating the experience of coming to the hospital. Visitors and patients may not be able to quantify this directly but they will feel the building’s uniqueness and comfort.”

Working together, the team from Johns Hopkins, the architecture firm of Perkins + Will, the landscape architects from Olin, along with consulting architect Allen Kolkowitz and curator Nancy Rosen, are reinforced by many other creative voices. Among them:

  • Brooklyn-based artist Spencer Finch, who has transformed the glass and steel curtain wall enclosure of the entire 1.5 million-square-foot building into a shimmering composition of color and light;
  • Set designer Robert Israel, who has created 11 whimsical, super-sized sculptures for the Bloomberg Children’s Center’s entry and soaring multi-level lobby;
  • Artist Jim Boyd, who has designed unique window shades for every patient room that are inspired by Baltimore’s folk tradition of painting door and window screens.
  • and a roster of artists from Baltimore and across the country, who have created memorable works of art inspired by beloved children books and the joy of reading. These works will be integrated into lobbies and public areas throughout the hospital.

“The project was a tremendous opportunity for us all to work collectively using our broad vocabulary to create something unique. The architects had to learn to allow the artists a certain freedom and integrity to express their art in the architectural space. And the artists had to learn how to incorporate elements into the architectural core that integrate rather than explode out,” says Kolkowitz.
“Working together, we all became parts of a complex chorus. Some of us were sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background, but we were all always unified.”

Rosen explains, “From the beginning there was tremendous support and enthusiasm from Johns Hopkins and the architectural team to think about art as a primary player in shaping the building. Working closely with an art committee, led by the chief of Pediatrics, we seized on the opportunity to celebrate the joys and the benefits of reading as a central theme for our art collection.”

View photos of the new building.

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The Exterior: The Ever-Changing Language of the Color Alphabet

The collaboration is clearly visible, even miles away. Covering almost the entire exterior of the building in a seamless bond is a massive and intricate multi-colored work of art by Spencer Finch. Each panel of the shadowbox-like work is made out of two layers of glass through which shines one of Finch’s color alphabet—a carefully distilled palette of 26 shades—with blue as the dominant color—inspired by Claude Monet’s Impressionist landscape paintings and Finch’s visits to Monet’s studio outside Paris.

“From the beginning we were thinking about glass as an analogue for water, how glass and water behave in similar ways, and what we could do with the glass so that it’s always changing,” says Finch. “Also it’s a big building and it can be intimidating, but water has a certain softness and welcoming aspect to it.”

The result is a shimmering exterior that captures the light of the sky, allowing the building to change in sync with the environment, establishing it as a natural and inviting presence. While the glass and color accentuate the curves and dimples of the building, its transparency beckons the community.

Known for his mastery of light and color, Finch spent months testing and developing a broad range of colors for the building’s exterior, even observing test panels on the roof of a garage across from the Bloomberg Children’s Center site to understand how his palette would play with Baltimore’s light. Then he worked closely with the architects, who provided technical guidance, to devise the best way to execute his vision and ensure that the colors remain true.

“We went back and forth a lot to really think about the connection between materials used and how the colors would be perceived since this is a work of art that will be around for a long time as part of the building,” says Eric Van Aukee of Perkins + Will, managing principal on the project. “So we put a system together with crystal clear glass that would always render Finch’s true colors and we tested it rigorously to ensure that it would stand up to the elements such as sun, high winds, condensation and rain.”

“For other buildings, the art is usually done as an application to the exterior in the form of a specific work,” says Aukee, “but here, the art is very integrated into the functionality of the building. With Spencer, we were really able to transform the approach to the skin of the building—thinking of it not just as protection but also as a canvas. Together we turned a piece of building protection, the “building envelope” into a work of art.”

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The Magical Frit, Lantern and Snow Globe

Etched and baked into the glass walls and windows are Finch’s frit brushstrokes, which are magically visible from the outside but do not obstruct the view from inside. The frit pattern softly punctuates the building’s glass façade, transforming the Bloomberg Children’s Center by night into a glowing lantern, suggesting a snow globe filled with bustling activity.

“There’s a certain amount of complexity in the design,” says Finch, “and a feeling of activity and aliveness that reflects all the great stuff that happens here.”

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Artistic Wayfinding

The art and design of the Bloomberg Children’s Center also have practical functions. Spencer Finch’s palette for the building exterior is composed primarily of a range of blue tones. The presence of the color blue is used throughout the interiors—in all of the elevator lobbies, along the patient floors, even on the walkway of the bridge that leads into the building, immediately letting visitors know that they are in the children’s section of the hospital or on a path towards it. There is a unique work of art in every one of the twelve elevator lobbies, each inspired by a different book. This idea of linking reading and healing continues throughout the building’s reception and waiting areas and along its main circulation routes. As patients and visitors navigate through the building, they will discover unique works of art that become memorable landmarks that help with wayfinding.

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The Canopy: An Unmistakable Point of Arrival

The artful skin of the building hugs the exterior and works in tandem with the long upward curving canopy, which stretches along the entire length of the entrance to provide a clear and unmistakable point of arrival.

“This is the only hospital I know of with all its public entrances—for general visits as well as for emergencies—gathered in one area, under the canopy. So when you arrive, the architecture guides you in, no matter which direction you are coming from. Even if you are under a lot of stress, the building makes it easy,” says Sally MacConnell, Johns Hopkins Health System vice president for facilities.

The canopy, together with the pedestrian bridges (which connect the hospital and the parking lot) and the entry plaza’s football-field long tapestry of green all work together to visually reinforce and reaffirm a visitor’s arrival.

These features also work together to make the massive hospital structure feel less intimidating. While the canopy and the bridges help to reduce the scale of the building, the landscaping and gardens soften one’s approach.

Designed by Susan Weiler of Olin, the landscaping for the hospital’s entry plaza features long rows of planting in horizontal banding that provide a visual display of colors in every season. The planting patterns evoke the movement, colors and patterns of the building’s vibrant glass façade. When viewed from above, the entry plaza plantings will “reflect” Finch’s work to those inside.

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Setting the Stage with Playful Sculptures

The airy bi-level lobby and its four-story atrium reinforce the feeling of accessibility and openness that permeates the building. When considering how artworks could enliven these entry spaces, curator Rosen proposed reaching out to set designers. In the natural course of their activities, these magicians of the stage are experts at dealing with active, populated spaces, and are thoroughly accustomed to working collaboratively.

Based on a series of enchanting concept sketches, stage and set designer Robert Israel was brought on board. Rather than just filling the space, Israel’s work transforms the area to continue the sense of delight sparked by the shimmering glass of the building’s exterior.

“My father was a doctor. As a child I would sometimes have the opportunity to join him on his rounds and I can still remember the feelings of apprehension and nervousness that went along with these excursions,” remembers Israel. “The Hopkins spaces became a fantastic opportunity to bring a sense of fun and playfulness to this very formidable institution. So I started with very basic, block-like shapes, and made an effort to include pairs or groups to remind children that they are not alone.”

Israel, who lives in Los Angeles and teaches at UCLA, has been collaborating with Fabrication Specialities in Seattle to bring his sculptures to life. The super-sized menagerie will be loaded onto two 40-foot trucks for their nearly 3,000-mile journey to Baltimore in March, where they will be assembled and installed.

When they arrive, the creatures will add a dab of magic. When seen from the outside through the fritted glass, Israel’s 22-foot high brightly colored ostrich, which will be attached to the ceiling of the four-story atrium, will look like a figure in a snow globe. Nearby, an ostrich egg will be perched on the lobby’s information desk.

Swimming above the broad stairway that connects the ground floor and the main
level lobbies is a family of giant puffer fish. And suspended beyond the main level information desk is a flying cow with a nine-foot wingspan, heading towards a ring of the 28 phases of the moon.

Just outside, a very colorful huge rhinoceros, with a baby rhino on its back, both built out of block-like cubes, will stand (over 20 feet high) in wait at the entrance to the Bloomberg Children’s Center’s Emergency Department. The craggy, uneven pavement at its feet is evidence of its weighty stature and rootedness in the community.

“I did not get to see the final building before I designed the sculptures. I worked with architecture plans and models and tried to figure it out. About a year and a half ago, the architects helped me inflate some giant balloons in the space to test and tweak the relationship of the sculptures to the building,” remembers Israel. “If it’s a good collaboration, in the end you don’t know what you are responsible for. It all melts together. This was a good collaboration.”

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Windows on Baltimore’s Tradition

When faced with the opportunity to introduce art into the children’s rooms, the project team came up with a unique response—turning the window shades into practical works of art. Artist Jim Boyd took some cues from the local Baltimore tradition of painting the screen doors and windows of one’s row house.

To come up with the designs, Boyd met with doctors as well as with patients and their families to get their input.

“We wanted designs that were both informative and illustrative,” says Boyd. “So we loaded the shades with lots of fun references and images peculiar to Baltimore. For example, on several of the shades, we included local landmarks Camden Yards, the pagoda in Patterson Park, the historic Shot Tower, and also the Bromo-Seltzer tower, which was inspired by the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and was the tallest building in Baltimore until 1923.”

Throughout the hospital there are seven different window shade designs. With Johns Hopkins’ international profile in mind, Boyd also drew on the tradition of flash cards and quilts. These shades feature childhood objects that are identified in more than thirty languages.

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Medicine for the Soul – Book-Inspired Art

Inspired in part by the words inscribed over the entrance to the library in ancient ThebesMedicine for the Soulthe art for the public spaces of the Bloomberg Children’s Center celebrates books and reading, and draws on Johns Hopkins’ strong reading program and participation in the national Reach Out and Read initiative.

“We wanted the art in the building to celebrate the power of books as a means to promote healing,” says curator Nancy Rosen. “Honoring children’s books and the joy of reading will give the patients, their families and the hospital community a way to discover hundreds of works of art, and to connect them with the world of books.”

Rosen’s search for artists for the Bloomberg Children’s Center extended across the country, but she also drew heavily from artists in the region, ultimately selecting a diverse collection of creative voices to produce works related to over 40 beloved children’s books. They include Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollboth, Walter Dean Myers’ Hoops, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, and Ruth Krauss’ A Hole is to Dig, as well as older classics such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.

The artists come from a variety of backgrounds and have created works ranging from ceramic sculptures to collages, photographic prints, watercolors and paintings. Each artist was encouraged to read and select books that spoke to his or her individual experience and imagination. The artists include Casey Ruble, who chose books with elements of nature, evoking her childhood on a ranch in Montana, and Rolla Herman who has produced large-scale linocuts based on the Dr. Seuss books she loved as a child. Sylvan Lionni’s large, colorful painting for one of the Bloomberg Children’s Center elevator lobbies was inspired by the book Pezzetino, which was written by his grandfather, Leo Lionni, and which he now reads to his own son.

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Dioramas, Tabletops and More

Some of the artworks are integrated into the architecture and design of the building and interiors. A colorful, glass-enclosed display case is embedded in the walls at the elevator lobby of seven of the children’s floors. Each of these has been outfitted with colorful dioramas created by Baltimore artist Jennifer Strunge. Using recycled clothing and cloth, Strunge has populated each niche with soft, fanciful groups of creatures—including monkeys, bunnies and an octopus—holding and reading actual books.

These dioramas serve a dual purposethey help in wayfinding, providing artful location clues; they also open a window into a special world, encouraging patients, their families, and the rest of the hospital community to find and explore the other works of art in the building that were inspired by the books on display, as well as many more.

Other unique art works will be incorporated into the sculpture-like furniture designed by the architects. Under the glass top that covers the oval-shaped greeter’s desks at the entries into the Bloomberg Children’s Center, patients and their families can discover more special works of art.

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Note: Interviews and images are available

About Bloomberg Philanthropies

Bloomberg Philanthropies works primarily to advance five areas globally: the Arts, Education, the Environment, Government Innovation and Public Health. In 2011, $311.3 million in grants were distributed and $18 million was invested in advocacy related initiatives.

About The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center

The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center

The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, founded in 1912 through a generous donation from Harriet Lane and Henry Johnston, was the first children’s hospital associated with an academic medical center. Today, Johns Hopkins offers one of the most comprehensive pediatric medical programs in the world. It has recognized Centers of Excellence in dozens of pediatric subspecialties, including allergy, cardiology, cystic fibrosis, gastroenterology, nephrology, neurology, neurosurgery, oncology, pulmonary, and transplant. Johns Hopkins is currently ranked as the nation’s best hospital by US News & World Report.

Magdalene Sim, 212-316-6554, 917-771-9628
Pamela Johnson, 615-512-9977

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