Project Category - New Construction (completed September 1998)

Facility Contact - Nancy Chambers, Registered Horticultural Therapist (HTR), (212) 263-2091

Firm - Johansson Design Collaborative, Inc., Landscape Architecture, (781) 259-9701

Design Team - Sonja Johansson, ASLA, President (Johansson Design Collaborative, Inc., Landscape Architecture [formerly Johansson & Walcavage]); Nancy Chambers, HTR, Director (The Enid A. Haupt Glass Garden at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, NYU Medical Center); Fred Druck, Vice-President (Playground Environments International); Rusk Design Team

Patient/Bed Capacity - N/A

Total Building Area (sq. ft.) - N/A

Total Land Area (acres) - 0.13

Total Cost (excluding land) - $450,000


New therapeutic approaches at the innovative Children's PlayGarden at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine actively incorporate the outdoors to promote physical and psychological and social development. The multidisciplinary therapeutic team at Rusk asked the landscape architect to design a motivational and secure outdoor environment in the facility's small area of open space. Sonja Johansson combined her extensive experience in nature-oriented play design with the professional expertise of the team. Through a collaborative process of site observations and discussion groups, several goals were developed, including:

  • changing the perception of therapy as work into therapy as creative play;

  • connecting the children and their caregivers with healing Nature in an urban context; and

  • motivating the patients and staff to interact and challenge themselves, promoting the individual and social development of the children.

The landscape architect achieved these design goals with unique strategies: manipulating topography, incorporating natural materials and features, and designing custom play equipment. The site is a child-friendly, multilevel journey through flower and vegetable gardens, arbors, waterfalls and streams. Slides, swings, playhouses and safety surfaces are skillfully integrated at an intimate scale. Therapists report that, as opposed to participating in indoor therapies, the children eagerly anticipate opportunities to improve their developmental skills in the PlayGarden.