The Crown Sky Garden, on the 11th floor of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, is a 5,000-square-foot area for play and contemplation and the second healing garden completed last year by Mikyoung Kim. Kim, a 44-year-old landscape architect, is regarded as an artful weaver of nature and sculpture. The Sky Garden features a bamboo grove and interactive furniture that emits sounds when an embedded brass hand is touched with a live one.
Project Ripple, Kim's garden at Jackson South Community Hospital in Miami, opened in August.
"When we look for a place to call home and we nurture a garden we call our own, we are looking for a place that's restorative, that's regenerative and that has a kind of humanity," she told a reporter last week on the phone from her office in Boston.
Q. How do you define a healing garden?
A. It allows for us to reboot. I think that a lot of our public environments don't really offer us that.
Q. Certainly not in hospitals.
A. Overall, a kind of stress management happens. It's something we all know intuitively. We go to a place that's quiet and inviting, and we can just feel our body relaxing. I think at the highest level, hospital administrators are really beginning to believe that design matters, and they're infusing a kind of humanity into these clinical environments.
Q. So "clinical" is something to be avoided.
A. It's an interesting word. We want our health care professionals to be objective and not emotional in assessing our state of being. But at the same time there's a growing awareness that clinical environments work against the good work that doctors do - that they may actually increase stress levels, not only in patients but in their families.
Q. Hospitals pose severe constraints to designers. What did you have to think about with a hospital garden?
A. There's such a range of people who come to any hospital: There are people who are just there to get a vaccination and then there are kids who've had four transplants. We had to create a safe environment for kids with severe immune deficiencies.
The other aspect was daily engagement: The rituals of the patients. There's a kind of layering of activity that took months to figure out how to do, such as allowing for patients who are learning to get back on their feet to do physical therapy using the garden. In the Miami garden, there's a slight incline that allows people to have a little bit of a challenge as they do circuits and, at the same time, allows patients in wheelchairs to enjoy the same setting.
I remember one parent in Chicago said to me, "I have a young son, and my daughter is in the hospital. I just want to be able to sit in the garden on a bench and look up at the sky at night and breast-feed my child."
Q. Can you say more about the designs?
A. Within each of the gardens there are contemplative rooms created through plant material that screens the space and water that screens sound. In Miami, we actually used mist to create a cooling element that is a microclimate in the center and also creates a private zone.
In Chicago, we have a series of sculptural play elements; some of them are benches. They were salvaged pieces of wood from around Chicago. These logs had all this rot in them. We wondered, Should we repair this, should we make it look new? I said no. The whole idea of healing is there's often a scar that's left behind. It's almost the beauty of healing. It's not pretending that something is perfect. All of the aging was captured with resin and then we punched holes in the wood and embedded speakers. Different water sounds come out of the logs.
Q. Your own career was derailed by a physical disability: You were heading toward a career as a concert pianist in your early 20s when you developed tendinitis. Do you naturally think of creativity as something connected to the body?
A. I think that the idea of vulnerability is something you constantly bump up against as you grow older, but when you're younger it's quite traumatic. You don't have the tools to address it. I had to find another form of expression, which was public and performative, used the body and had a kind of creativity to it.