At new hospital, art and nature aim to benefit healing

The new Stanford Hospital values the restorative qualities of art and nature. It includes four acres of outdoor gardens, floor-to-ceiling windows in every patient room and more than 400 works of original art.

- By Grace Hammerstrom

Artist Jinnie Seo (right) and studio assistant Jihyun Lee during the production of the "Rays of Hope" mural commissioned by Stanford Health Care for the interfaith chapel.
Connie Wolf

In the early 1980s, a group of volunteers formed to acquire and hang 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 that same decade in multiple studies by environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich, PhD, and others. Their research findings indicated that art can substantially affect outcomes such as blood pressure, anxiety, intake of pain medications and length of hospital stay.

Similarly, Ulrich found that patients who had hospital rooms with a window required less pain medication and recovered faster than patients in rooms without windows. 

“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 Stanford Hospital, which will open in the fall, places equal value on the restorative qualities of art and nature. It includes four acres of outdoor gardens, floor-to-ceiling windows in every patient room and more than 400 works of original art. 

“We think about patients, their loved ones and families and the staff. Those three groups of people are all important to nurture,” Wolf said. “How can we create an environment that supports the patients’ healing and well-being, provides comfort to their families and offers relief to the complex and challenging work of the staff?”

Stanford Health Care has a dedicated art commission, comprised of 14 volunteers led by Linda Meier, who also serves on the Stanford Health Care board of directors. The commission reviews all the work for the new hospital and strives to find pieces 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, she said. “We want them to be able to come back to the work and experience something different every time.” 

The committee commissioned seven pieces of art for the new Stanford Hospital, all of which have been generously supported by donors. These site-specific works grace the entrance plaza, the atrium, the walls of the interfaith chapel and the third floor galleria and gardens. Along with the hospital’s gardens, the art will help create a mood, Wolf said. “We want people to walk in, feel welcome, and know they are in a place where their health and spirit matter.”

‘Rays of Hope’

Korean artist Jinnie Seo spent two months on-site at the new hospital painting “Rays of Hope,” a mural in the interfaith chapel. She used a rendering as a guideline, but every stroke was free-form and spontaneous as she drew inspiration from the space. Working six days a week, Seo and her assistant brought the curved walls at the back of the chapel to life with 14 layers of cerulean blue. Next, Seo applied a series of fine, straight lines that create the impression of curves and movement. For some, the image is reminiscent of butterflies taking flight, she said. Using 12 different shades of metallic paint with a high-gloss varnish finish, the mural shimmers in the chapel’s natural light.

“I’m inspired by light. There’s physical light and spiritual light and light within each of us,” Seo said. “I wanted to give a person a space to pause and be still, even for one moment. That moment can last an eternity and be a life-changing experience.”


Leo Villareal brought his passion for form and geometry to his larger-than-life sculpture Buckyball, a 30-foot metal structure featuring three nested spheres. The centerpiece of the new hospital’s entrance plaza, Buckyball will be illuminated by LED lights at night in a never-repeating sequence of colors and patterns. Villareal was inspired by the geodesic dome popularized by architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller.

“I’ve always been interested in underlying structures and rules and geometry,” Villareal said. This same geodesic structure was discovered in a carbon molecule by nanotechnologists, he added. “I thought it would be interesting to take something that you could never see with a naked eye and expand it on this monumental scale.” 

Artist Leo Villareal stands near Buckyball, the sculpture he created that was installed at the entrance to the new hospital.
Steve Fisch

Villareal is best known locally for transforming the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline with his Bay Lights installation. As he did with the Bay Bridge, he has lined Buckyball with LED light strips, and programmed them to twinkle, blink and slowly shift to create a mesmerizing pattern of light each evening.

Other commissioned works in the new hospital include two commissioned art works in the atrium. Zadok Ben-David’s Endless Columns present images of butterflies and the human figure that soar in the space. In creating Liquid Light, artist James Carpenter used large waves of tumbled glass woven together to create a “reflecting pond” directly under the glass dome in the hospital’s atrium. Reflecting light throughout the day, the sculpture provides different experiences when you walk around it or look down on it from the upper levels.

Ned Kahn’s Air Cube, a 1,000-pound metal sculpture that interacts with the wind, is installed in the garden space on the third floor. Kahn’s work aims to symbolically replicate the forms and forces of nature; he strives to create art that interacts with natural processes. Air Cube is lined with rows of metal flaps that move freely and reflect light in dynamic and ever-changing ways. 

The third floor will also be distinguished by a wall mural based on a drawing by the late artist Sol LeWitt. He is best known for his bold, colorful, geometric works comprised of straight lines and curves. In July, two master painters experienced in making these works, together with two Stanford undergraduate students serving as interns, spent 24 days painting the LeWitt mural. The process entailed using nearly 75 rolls of masking tape to delineate each line. Like all of LeWitt’s works, the original drawing was adjusted to be specific to the space and fills every inch of the 18-by-10-foot wall on the third floor. 

Each of the seven commissioned pieces for the new Stanford Hospital were fully underwritten by private donors. The other 400-plus pieces of art were either donated works or acquired with private monetary donations.

A view of the third-floor rooftop gardens with walking trails. 
Conveyance Media

Healing gardens

Today, both art and gardens have become standard elements in hospitals adhering to the practices of evidence-based design, which uses credible research to inform decisions about the environment to achieve the best possible outcomes for patients. Four acres of gardens surround the new Stanford Hospital, including five interconnected rooftop gardens on the third level of the building, with walking paths and multiple places to sit and take in the views of the nearby hills. A vertical garden outside the interfaith chapel on the third floor creates an additional private space for reflection.

Outside the emergency department on the first floor lies a newly planted orchard of 85 deciduous trees. Grounds crews planted six varietals of fruit, nut or flowering trees — gingko, loquat, apricot, olive, buckeye and live oak — each of which was selected for its medicinal or food-bearing properties in eastern, western and native cultures. The orchard also includes shrubs, rushes, grasses, ash trees and paths to create a shady, serene retreat for patients, families, visitors and staff. The gardens on the street-level also include a dog park, complete with a water fountain and fire hydrant. 

While art will be available in the corridors connecting the patient rooms, the rooms themselves have a different kind of art on view: By design, every patient room has floor-to-ceiling windows to let in natural light while providing views of the surrounding foothills.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

2024 ISSUE 1

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