Healing Landscapes Design Practice

Master plan for Hengqin Hospital Healing Garden, Zhuhai, China
Master plan for Hengqin Hospital Healing Garden, Zhuhai, China / image: Adam E. Anderson

Healthcare & Therapeutic Garden Design Interview Series: Adam E. Anderson

Adam E. Anderson, ASLA, was one of the speakers for the 2018 Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) Meeting at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO. He is a registered landscape architect and the Founder/Director of Design Under Sky. He also runs the Landscape Architecture Department at Payette Architects. His projects are incredibly diverse, including but not limited to hospital healing gardens, residential gardens, master planning, campus plazas, rooftop gardens, and urban parks, as well as commissioned public art works.

His work interacts with the ever-changing landscape by ascertaining the unique phenomenological qualities and cultural influences inherent in a site, and then deploying interventions to embrace, reveal, and often embellish these qualities. “Nature” is abstracted in his projects, and he engages technological and ecological aspects of a site to create a celebration of nature and a sense of wonder.

Adam is currently working on projects at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and the 43-acre site of 5th Xiangya Hospital in China. He recently received a Rhode Island Council of the Arts Project Grant and has been appointed to the Rhode Island Scenic Roadways Board by the Governor of Rhode Island. He has taught at RISD since 2014 and has been a visiting critic at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Ohio State University, Northeastern University, and the Boston Architectural College.

The following interview was conducted by Siyi He, Associate ASLA, Chair of the Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network (PPN).

Thinking process sketch for Hengqin Hospital Healing Garden, Zhuhai, China / image: Adam E. Anderson
Sketch for Hengqin Hospital Healing Garden, Zhuhai, China / image: Adam E. Anderson

How long have you practiced in healthcare and therapeutic landscape design?

Not long—three years, and I have worked on five different hospitals during that time. But being at Payette, which is one of the top healthcare specialists in the world, has accelerated my learning curve. In fact, one of the first projects of Payette, the Aga Khan University Medical Campus, was as much a landscape project as it was an architectural one.

Aga Khan University Medical Campus, Karachi, Pakistan / image: Adam E. Anderson
Aga Khan University Medical Campus, Karachi, Pakistan / image: Adam E. Anderson
Aga Khan University Medical Campus, Karachi, Pakistan / image: Adam E. Anderson

Why do you choose to create healing landscapes? What makes this different or more special for you?

I think we’ve always known it, but we now have the data that shows how effective exposure to natural elements can be for the healing process. Also, personally, hospitals cause me anxiety, so I like the idea of making them easier to navigate. Crafting a space that directly connects someone to an increased ameliorative process is a nice thought, and landscape design is uniquely able to do so.

Drawing for the healing garden in the 5th XiangYa Hospital in Changsha, China / image: Adam E. Anderson

Do the standards of healthcare landscape design overseas differ from those in the U.S.? Are there any advantages or disadvantages to working overseas?

In my two projects in China with Payette, the notion of a large central garden was a critical component to the planning of the hospital. The garden influenced everything as it made its way into the public spaces. For my projects in the U.S., the garden is a strong component, but has had less prominence in the overall organization of the hospital. They are not afraid of water in Chinese hospitals, which is a nice element to work with given its association with healing. In the U.S. they are much more concerned about Legionnaires’ disease and bacteria in the soil. Translation and cultural misunderstandings can sometimes be difficult. Luckily, we have a few native Chinese speakers on our team who help with this.

Sketch for Hengqin Hospital Healing Garden, Zhuhai, China / image: Adam E. Anderson

Are there specific healing landscapes projects that have inspired you in your own practice?

There are some really nice healthcare projects coming out some of the Scandinavian countries. But this is partly because they have a much different approach to healthcare, which allows for stronger access to nature. But I do feel this perception is changing in the U.S., just slowly.

What are the current healing landscape projects you are working on?

  • XiangYa 5th Hospital in Changsha, now under construction. A 43-acre site backed by a small wooded mountain.
  • Hengqin Hospital, Specialty Hospital Campus Plan, and Senior Living Residential Master Plan, which is still in its planning phase.
  • Beth Israel Deaconess New Inpatient Building (11,000-sf healing garden and streetscape) in the Longwood Medical area, facing Olmsted’s Riverway.
  • Yale Psychiatric Hospital Campus, a new psychiatric inpatient/outpatient hospital on a 110-acre wooded and steeply sloped site.
  • Boston Children’s Hospital-Satellite Hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Perspective drawing for Hengqin Hospital Healing Garden / image: Adam E. Anderson
Rendering for Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital Healing Garden / image: Adam E. Anderson
Rendering for the healing garden in the 5th XiangYa Hospital in Changsha, China / image: Adam E. Anderson

What is your vision for future healthcare and therapeutic design?

I would like to see hospitals take in the phenomenological qualities of what we associate with nature. Payette is doing some of this in terms of natural light and ventilation, but more could be done to push the biological into the biomedical, disintegrating the line between the living landscape and interior. This will take time, but understanding an ecology’s ability to heal itself, and tapping into that, can be advantageous. The other thing to remember is that there needs to be a spectrum of “non-medical” spaces to accommodate the varying circumstances of patients, family, and staff.

Rendering of night view of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital Healing Garden / image: Adam E. Anderson
Rendering of night view of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital Healing Garden / image: Adam E. Anderson

Siyi He, Associate ASLA, is Chair of the ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network (PPN).

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