Designers Turn Landscape Architecture Up A Notch At Spaulding Rehabilitation

December 23, 2013
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Spaulding Rehabilitation designed its new facility on the Boston Harbor to take advantage of its waterfront setting with outdoor therapy elements. Photo: Courtesy of Luke O’Neill The outdoor environment features ramps at different slopes and various surfacing materials to help individuals practice real-world challenges. Photo: Courtesy of Luke O’Neill Benches for seating and stainless-steel bars built into the walls provide a range of activities for therapists and patients. Photo: Courtesy of Luke O’Neill Plant materials are set at staggered heights so individuals, either standing or in a wheelchair can enjoy them. Photo: Courtesy of Luke O’Neill On the south-facing side, a terrace off the first-floor café provides a place for staff and patients to sit outside, and can be reconfigured to host staff meetings and community events.  Photo: Courtesy of Luke O’Neill Another side of the building features planted beds and a bright yellow sculpture. Photo: Courtesy of Luke O’Neill During remediation of the site, the design team found boulders and 100-year-old oak timbers from its days as a timber receiving dock. These elements were used on site as benches and therapy elements. Photo: Courtesy of Luke O’Neill
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Healing gardens have been sprouting up at healthcare facilities as designers and owners garner a better understanding of the connection between access to nature and healing. These places are designed for respite and offer areas to sit as well as artwork and sculptures to inspire serenity.

When Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital began making plans to relocate to a waterfront site at the Charlestown Navy Yard, the idea of an outdoor garden seemed like a natural fit. But Copley Wolff Design Group (Boston), which was hired to do the landscaping and public realm improvements, saw the opportunity to do more.

“The owner and the architect didn’t realize the value of the site in their mission,” says Lynn Wolff, principal, Copley Wolff Design Group. “They understood it as an aesthetic kind of commentary on the city side and the harbor side, but to be able to incorporate and get the patients outside and interacting with the community was something that they honestly had never thought about.”

The landscape architecture and planning firm held a series of meetings and workshops with the staff who said they wanted an active space as opposed to something more retrospective and quiet. “That’s when [the idea] started to take hold, because the therapists recognized that it was a great opportunity,” Wolff says.

“We had a strong commitment to being able to provide a range of experiences to patients and to prepare them to be out in the world, not just back in their homes,” says Paula Hereau, vice president of hospital operations at Spaulding. “Plus we’re in an absolutely spectacular location. There aren’t many hospitals in the world built on waterfront property.”

Creating real-world scenarios

While the hospital’s former site in a commercial area of Boston had room for a couple of bricks, a section of concrete, and a curve where patients could practice walking on different surfaces with their therapists, the new three-acre site houses a quarter-mile walking path with pavers that are inset with dimensional stripes every 10 feet so patients can measure their distances.

Within that loop, there’s a 6-foot-wide concrete therapy trail designed with slopes and undulations to help individuals practice real-world challenges. More advanced patients can further their rehabilitation on a secondary walkway, which features inclines as steep as 4.8 percent, says Sean Sanger, principal, Copley Wolff Design Group. “That’s a common slope condition that architects and designers use because it doesn’t require handrails,” he says. “So once you get out beyond the hospital world, you see that slope a lot.”

A range of walking surfaces throughout the setting includes boardwalk materials, crushed stones, and field stones, and there’s also a 6-inch curb and a series of steps.

The north side of the building is a haven for sports with a putting green, 7-foot-tall wall that’s mounted with stainless-steel bars for upper body activities, and a hard-surface activity area with adjustable-height basketball hoops.

 “A key piece was creating an environment and custom tailoring it to rehabilitation to serve individuals’ needs and interests,” Sanger says.

Designing for mind and body

Within the physical rehabilitation elements at Spaulding is another overlay devoted to exercises for the mind. During the brainstorm meetings, Sanger says the physical therapists had expressed a desire to also address cognitive rehabilitation and brain injuries. The design team commissioned a local artist to create 3-D sculptures of local fauna that are scattered throughout the therapy trail. A therapist can use those elements to create a scavenger hunt for patients.

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