What you see is what you get. In hospitals, patients and visitors count on the positive distraction that outside views can provide. However, occasionally the natural healing light and landscapes desired by most everyone are marred by essential, yet unsightly devices. While new construction allows for designers to place these essential mechanical components away from patient views, many times architects and designers must work around existing conditions and cannot avoid unsightly images of industry.

This was the case with Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. The design team of NBBJ had to work with existing HVAC units that would be visible to a high-traffic area. The newly completed southeast addition's major connector to the existing hospital has a massive hallway directly past the main entry reception area, designed for patients and their families to congregate and to meet with doctors, nurses, and staff. The hallway has 30-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows separated by three levels of metal panes that run the length of the 60-foot hallway. The space is serene, with large sofas, chairs, and tables for maximum comfort. While very beautiful and dramatic, there are several outdoor HVAC units that could be seen down the long hallway, detracting from the designer's vision and intention for an environment of health and comfort.

Charles White, principal of Skyline Art Services, selected Dallas-based artist Jonathan Brown to create a piece that would work with the signature art program Skyline Art Services designed for the hospital, while hiding the unsightly HVAC units. White provided images of the construction site and window placement in relation to the outdoor facilities equipment. However, the true challenge was fully realized when Brown flew to Ohio to take measurements of the windows and study the space. “The excitement of designing this piece to serve two purposes, beauty and utility, was overwhelming” Brown says. “My initial instincts were my best-create a work through which natural light filters, while diverting viewers from the HVAC units on the other side of the glass. This was going to be an amazing challenge with an amazing result.”

Using the dimensions of the middle panes of glass, Brown designed clear acrylic panels with hand-cut strips and pieces of stained glass placed vertically throughout. “The idea was a floating quality to the glass inside the clear acrylic panels to give the work an ethereal feel,” he says. Brown chose to use a medium of poured acrylic resin and stained glass cured to a glossy, glass-like finish. “This is a process I developed to give the illusion of floating glass with no seams, only sunlight and color. I had to complete a total of 18 panels, equaling 60 feet in length. We had to ensure the proper finish of each piece so no one would be able to ever injure themselves when touching the glass-filled art. Logistically, this was one of the most challenging large-scale projects I've done in glass,” he notes.

Brown hand-cut strips of stained glass in a variety of lengths and widths. He then used a mix of clear resin to place the strips in a composition for each of the 18 clear acrylic panels. After the panels dried, Brown poured a second coat of resin to seal the glass and to build a smooth top coat. The panels were installed directly inside the metal frames of the windows at the hospital.

After the delivery and installation of the work, Brown could not be more satisfied with the results-he not only met the challenge of disguising the HVAC units, but he created a piece he is truly moved by, with high hopes that the mural, titled “All I Need,” will do the same for the patients, families, and staff at Miami Valley Hospital.
White confirms the success of the project. “We drew terrific praises from the patients, their families, and staff during the installation process. We knew immediately that our intent of engaging these people through the art was a success,” he says.

Another example of how art can mask industrial spaces is to actually use the equipment in the piece. In Houston, Memorial Hermann Hospital wanted to create an indoor park for families who aren't capable of going outside. Once again, Brown was called upon by Skyline Art Services. “We discussed several ideas to bring the vision to life. We thought of how many young patients couldn't be in an outdoor environment, leading us to build five tree sculptures, creating an allergen-reduced space,” Brown says. What resulted was an entire park-like setting with life-sized Hydrocal tree sculptures.

Brown was already challenged with two utilitarian design issues. “The largest tree is holding an ugly secret-a concrete, load-bearing pillar. It was a real eyesore, so I started there, sculpting a tree around the concrete. It came out beautifully,” he says.

Next, the space where the park was planned had several large HVAC vents near the ceiling on the sides of the walls. Brown saw this as an opportunity to utilize the circulation of air as a creative advantage.

In order to create his vision, Brown first used a plaster medium to sculpt trunks and branches. He then hung handmade, greenish-gold paper discs created by artist Priscilla Robinson from Austin, Texas, inside the custom lighting above each tree. Strategically placed near the side ventilation ducts, the suspended discs gently move in the breeze, giving the sculptures a dynamic and natural feel.

“I was thrilled with the final result of suspending the discs. They did exactly what I wanted them to,” Brown says.

The concept and creation of the trees won Brown two awards. The American Society of Interior Designers Gulf Coast Chapter recognized him with a first place award for commercial interior design and the Construction Specification Institute honored him with its Excellence in Craftsmanship Award.

Jonathan Brown Art & Design specializes in commercial and residential spaces. Several of its projects are large-scale installations for healthcare facilities, corporate offices, hotels, outdoor environments, and private collections. HCD

Amy Fryer is a partner at Jonathan Brown Art & Design. For more information, please visit www.mosaicart.us. Healthcare Design 2011 May;11(5):71-72