Icons of Healthcare & Therapeutic Garden Design: Clare Cooper Marcus

by Lisa Bailey, ASLA

A healing garden should be: visible and easily accessed from the main foyer, predominantly green, and should have a path that tempts you to explore and semi-private seating niches off to the side. St Joseph Memorial Hospital, Santa Rosa, CA / image: Clare Cooper Marcus

Healthcare & Therapeutic Garden Design Interview Series: Clare Cooper Marcus

Clare Cooper Marcus, Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, in the College of Environmental Design’s Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, has studied and been the grand champion for healthcare and therapeutic gardens since the time of her retirement from UC Berkeley in the 1990s. She taught for 24 years and authored several books, including Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations, co-authored with Marni Barnes in 1999, and Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces, co-authored with Naomi Sachs, ASLA, in 2013. Though not a landscape architect, Clare’s interest is in the social aspect of design and in what the people who are using designed spaces think and feel about them. She combines this background with her passion for gardening in her own backyard.

The following interview was conducted at Clare’s home and garden in Berkeley by Lisa Bailey, ASLA, sole proprietor of BayLeaf Studio and a consultant with Schwartz and Associates, a landscape design-build firm in Mill Valley, CA.

How did you become THE person who studied healing gardens?

Well, of course the person who started it all was Roger Ulrich with his famous study, “View through a window may influence recovery from surgery.” Roger is a good friend and colleague and I was inspired by his work. Then Marni Barnes and I conducted the first (I think) post-occupancy evaluations (POEs) of hospital gardens.

I was further motivated when, a few months after retirement, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was treated at the Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek Medical Center where there is a green space in the center with three ancient 150-year-old Valley Oak trees protected by law. That became an oasis for me during treatment. When people came to visit me, we would walk through the green space on balmy evenings in the summer. It was doubly important to me to have green space when dealing with the stress of a life-threatening illness. It had a very personal meaning.

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Your Brain on Water

Reflection on water at the Chicago Botanic Garden image: Jack Carman
Reflection on water at the Chicago Botanic Garden
image: Jack Carman

Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do
Wallace J. Nichols
2015

When I heard writer and sea turtle expert Wallace J. Nichols speak in Sausalito last summer, I was delighted by how much of what he said resembled the science behind why nature is good for our health and well-being. He quoted much of the same research we landscape architects do when promoting healthcare and therapeutic gardens. I knew I had to read his book, and I was amazed by the range of information that he brings together as both a scientist and an unabashed ocean lover in his book Blue Mind.

Blue Mind is an enjoyable read about the numinous experience of water, coupled with an urgent message to wake up to what is ‘hidden in plain sight’ in the hopes that we humans can transform the way we treat our planet’s resources. Nichols shares a strong emotional connection to this liquid element, as do many people who are willing to pay a lot of money to travel to beautiful beaches for vacations and spend top dollar for the house with a view of the water. For those of us who are curious to know what’s up with that from a scientific evidence point of view, this book explains the psychology and physiology of why we want and need the benefits associated with spending time in the presence of water.

In Blue Mind, Nichols makes an appeal to a broad range of people who might not feel convinced that emotion alone is a serious enough reason to cherish and protect this basic resource. He demonstrates the phenomenon of how people are attracted to water with cultural data, and how we are physically wired to benefit from the symbolism, physicality, color, sound, and essence of water as we encounter it in the environment, citing recent neuroscience studies and plenty of footnotes to point the reader to explore the topic further. Be prepared to dive deep from the comfort of your reading chair.

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Healthcare & Therapeutic Design in Chicago

The Crown Sky Garden, at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, designed by Mikyoung Kim Design image: Marni Barnes
The Crown Sky Garden, at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, designed by Mikyoung Kim Design
image: Marni Barnes

If you are considering attending the 2015 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago this November, you have until June 19 to register at the early bird rate. You know you want to go, so register now so you don’t have to pay more money (like I did last year :-/ ).

Here are a few sessions on topics that might influence your decision:

Chicago’s Therapeutic Healing Spaces
Friday, November 6, 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Urban Green Space and Mental Well-being: Evidence-Based Design
Friday, November 6, 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Designing Incentives for Health
Saturday, November 7, 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Evidence-based Design: Sensory Play Gardens and Children with Developmental Disorders
Sunday, November 8, 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Healthcare and Therapeutic Design PPN Meeting
Sunday, November 8, 12:45 PM – 2:15 PM

An Integrated Interdisciplinary Approach to Therapeutic Design
Monday, November 9, 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM

Fortunately, these sessions were scheduled with no overlaps, so you could attend them all! Unfortunately, there are other related topics that also look enticing, some of which do overlap, that you may want to consider.

I’ve listed several sessions of interest, as well as more information on the above sessions, below, complete with times, descriptions, and speakers. See the Annual Meeting website for more information on the more than 130 education sessions, field sessions, workshops, and general sessions that will be offered throughout the meeting.

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