Designing a Healing Oasis for Children & Families

I am a landscape architect, an artist, a musician and a parent. All those roles have informed my perspective on the Crown Sky Garden’s importance as a healing environment.
At the start of the project I came to Chicago on a “listening tour” and met so many families who are here for the long haul. Because of this, it felt important to design a space that rewards the everyday experience. So I wanted to create for them a place that seems to be missing in other children’s hospitals: an oasis from the daily operations of the hospital.
Children and families are under a great deal of stress in the hospital, as are the doctors and nurses and staff who care for them. They all benefit from having green spaces available where they can decompress and heal. The healing process is larger than MRI machines and pills that you take: it’s also about the experience.
What guides the space is the interactive aspects that allow for kids to define the garden. Sound and color are defined through a series of interwoven ribbons of material — bamboos, wood, colored resin panels, water and recycled glass in the flooring.
The space is an instrument that children transform by engaging light and sound. The sound is activated by a series of interactive sensors throughout the garden that highlight playful aural conditions of water — sounds like gurgle and splash. These work off of the baseline of the real water runnels that offer a soothing trickling of water throughout the garden. A central interactive LED light wall plays off of the water theme and creates visual aspects of water for viewing and play. We are also integrating historical wood from the Chicago area into the garden, including logs that were part of the buildings at the Columbian Exposition.
In my work, I like to focus on designing solutions that are collaborations. For this project, I was privileged to spend time with the Family Advisory Board and the Kids' Advisory Board. I came away humbled by the strength of those I met. The maturity of the children and teenagers, and the perspective of the parents, was quite moving. I left feeling a weight of responsibility to make this place very special.
Mikyoung Kim is principal of Mikyoung Kim Design in Brookline, Massachusetts. Kim’s award-winning projects have varied from civic gardens and municipal playgrounds to large-scale parks and institutional master plans. Her work has been featured in Architectural Record, Sculpture, Landscape Architecture, Land Forum, and Pages Paysages. She is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Rhode Island School of Design.
This article first appeared in the winter 2010 issue of Heroes magazine.