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Dome - The aesthetics of healing

November 2011

The aesthetics of healing

Date: November 14, 2011

Artist's rendering of the adult lobby

At first glimpse, the childlike rhinoceros conspicuously located just outside the ground entrance to the new clinical buildings may seem out of place. But for architects planning the interior design of The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center and the Sheikh Zayed Tower, form does fit function.

“With these sculptures, we’re looking to make the hospital experience friendly and unintimidating,” explains consulting architect Allen Kolkowitz.

But we hope not in a frivolous way, adds art curator Nancy Rosen: “The aesthetics are fresh, unique and thoughtful. They don’t fall back on simple clichés.”

A closer look reveals, for example, that the little rhino, gazing up through the canopy connecting the children’s and adult towers, is actually climbing the back of a larger rhino. In the four-story glass atrium is an outsized red ostrich dangling from the ceiling, a cow jumping over a necklace of moons and a family of puffer fish swimming in an imaginary pool.

Even the lobby reception area was planned to look more welcoming and less institutional, with an artistically crafted desk designed to soften the institutional image. Receptionists and security personnel, notes Johns Hopkins architect Michael Iati, can do their job without forming portals for patients and visitors.

The second-floor concourse toward the Zayed Tower atrium is dominated by ambient light, limestone and Grecian white marble walls, terrazzo floors, reflecting pools and a bordering meditation garden.

“The exterior integrates with the interior and you can’t help but feel part of the natural world,” Kolkowitz says.

 Strung along the second floor—the new buildings’ main street—are the food court, gift and flower shops, nondenominational chapel and pharmacy. This loop, say the designers, is where the functionality of the new clinical buildings’ design really kicks in, where light and color, as much as signage, get us to where we’re going. The wayfinding palettes of the exterior—blue for the children’s side and green for the adult’s—flow into the interior flooring, elevators and elevator lobbies, family lounges and inpatient units.

We step off an elevator to a unit and we’re welcomed by light and exterior views of the city, the harbor and the campus, and what we see outside orients us to where we are inside.

 “It’s a unique visual experience,” Iati says, “that anchors you when you come back.”

            —Gary Logan