Art and nature will benefit healing

Artist Leo Villareal built Buckyball, which stands at the entrance to the new hospital.
Steve Fisch

New hospital features gardens and hundreds of works of art

In the early 1980s, a group of volunteers came together with the purpose of acquiring and hanging art on the then-empty walls of Stanford Hospital. What this group sensed about the power of art — that it could help improve healing — was proven later in studies suggesting that it can substantially affect health outcomes, such as blood pressure, anxiety, intake of pain medications and length of hospital stay.

Today, every new hospital includes art, said Connie Wolf, consulting director of the art program for the new Stanford Hospital: “Integrating art into the hospital environment allows us to think holistically about the healing of the mind, the soul and the spirit.”

The new facility, which will open this fall, places equal value on the restorative qualities of art and nature. It includes 4 acres of outdoor gardens and more than 400 works of original art — all either donated or acquired with private monetary donations. 

It’s important for a hospital setting to nurture patients, their loved ones and the hospital staff, Wolf said. Her team asked themselves, “How can we create an environment that supports the patients’ healing and well-being, provides comfort to their families, and offers relief from the complex and challenging work of the staff?”

Artist Jinnie Seo (right), with studio assistant Jihyun Lee, created Rays of Hope for the interfaith chapel at the new Stanford Hospital.
Connie Wolf

Experiencing art

Stanford Health Care’s dedicated art committee reviewed all works for the new Stanford Hospital and commissioned seven new pieces. Committee members aimed to find works that are not only uplifting, beautiful and inspiring, but also have depth, complexity and layers of meaning.

Patients and families can spend long periods of time at the hospital, said Linda Meier, who serves on the Stanford Health Care board of directors and led the committee. “We want them to be able to come back to the work and experience something different every time,” she said.

The centerpiece of the new hospital’s entrance plaza is a sculpture titled Buckyball, a 30-foot metal structure lined with light-emitting diode strips programmed to create a pattern of twinkling lights each evening. Best known locally for transforming the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline with his Bay Lights installation, artist Leo Villareal said that Buckyball was inspired by the geodesic dome popularized by architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller.

The same geodesic structure was discovered in a carbon molecule by nanotechnologists, Villareal said: “I thought it would be interesting to take something that you could never see with the naked eye and expand it on this monumental scale.” 

For artist Jinnie Seo, the new hospital’s interfaith chapel provided inspiration for the mural Rays of Hope. Featuring 12 different shades of metallic paint with a high-gloss finish, the piece shimmers in the chapel’s natural light.

“There’s physical light and spiritual light and light within each of us,” Seo said.

Other commissioned works in the new hospital include pieces in the atrium and on the third floor. In James Carpenter’s Liquid Light, large waves of tumbled glass create a “reflecting pond” directly under the dome in the hospital’s atrium; on the third floor, Ned Kahn’s 1,000-pound metal sculpture Air Cube will interact with the wind in the garden space. 

Healing gardens

Wolf said that together, the art and gardens at the new Stanford Hospital were designed to create a positive mood.

The facility’s gardens include five interconnected rooftop terraces, with walking paths and places to sit while taking in the views of the nearby hills. A vertical garden outside the interfaith chapel provides an additional private space for reflection.

Outside the emergency department lies a newly planted orchard of 85 deciduous trees. Crews planted six varietals of fruit, nut and flowering trees — ginkgo, loquat, apricot, olive, buckeye and live oak — each selected for its medicinal or food-bearing properties in Eastern, Western and Native American cultures. The orchard also includes shrubs, ash trees and paths to create a shady, serene retreat for patients, families and staff members.

While art will decorate corridors, patient rooms in the new hospital will present a different kind of beauty: In each room, expansive windows will let in natural light and offer views of the surrounding foothills.

“We want people to walk in, feel welcome and know they are in a place where their health and spirit matter,” Wolf said.