A labyrinth invites visitors and patients near the entrance to Emory University Hospital at Midtown. The hospital has a number of quirky spaces for quiet reflection, including a giant sculptural wind chime and two aviaries. When it comes to designing Atlanta's hospitals and care centers, administrators know that environment matters. (PETE CORSON / pcorson@ajc.com)
Photo: PETE CORSON / PCORSON@AJC.COM
Photo: PETE CORSON / PCORSON@AJC.COM

External medicine: Atlanta's healing spaces

Someone thought it would be a good idea to put a drum kit in the middle of a hospital. And as it turns out, they were right.

Finding yourself among the sick or the dying is bound to carry an emotional cost. When it comes to designing Atlanta's hospitals and care centers, administrators know that environment matters.

Healing spaces are more than just pretty gardens. They give patients, families and even hospital employees a place to recharge and find comfort, in a way that's unique to each institution's purpose and history.

Here are some of metro Atlanta's most notable places that provide solace and reflection for patients and their families. (All photos by Pete Corson/pcorson@ajc.com)


Grady Memorial Hospital

Grady Hospital Goddard Chapel

There's an architectural gem set deep within the hallway maze of Grady Memorial Hospital. Enter the central 1950s-era part of the H-shaped facility (known as "Big Grady" to longtime locals) and you'll find the Goddard Memorial Chapel, designed by Philip Trammell Shutze, one of Atlanta's most renowned architects. The chapel, which was refurbished seven years ago, welcomes visitors of all faiths today, but there's no mistaking the Protestant mid-century design at work.

Nineteen box pews featuring hymnal holders and kneeling pads face an ornate raised pulpit and a chancel with the Ten Commandments in gold leaf. A small pipe organ is squeezed into the back and the surrounding walls are decorated with chandeliers and windows with brocade drapes. The overall effect is to be transported from the grittiness of Jesse Hill Drive to a quiet, well-appointed country church.

Grady Hospital Goddard Chapel


Winship Cancer Institute of Emory

Winship Cancer Institute Vaugn-Jordan Healing Garden

About a year after the Winship Cancer Institute settled into its new home on Clifton Road in 2003, its new fundraiser Vicki Riedel heard several nurses talking about an ugly, unused space on one side of the building. Couldn't something nicer be done with it, like a garden? The suggestion became one of Riedel's first fundraising projects and one that she's especially proud of.

When the Vaughn-Jordan Healing Garden was dedicated in 2006, the dusty brown space had become a wheelchair-accessible pocket of green with a waterfall pond. The garden is an oasis of calm amid the patient drop-offs and construction that currently surround it.

Next to the pond, a plaza of paving stones pays tribute to loved ones touched by cancer. One of those names, Julie Leff, has a special significance to Winship's staff. She was a "nurse's nurse" who worked at Winship until cancer took her life. Her former colleague Dr. David Lawson says that Leff used her experiences battling the disease to help her patients. "Her gift to patients was that they weren't afraid." Nurses, he says with admiration, "take the brunt. They walk the line closest to the patients. They see pain more than (doctors) do."


Emory University Hospital Midtown

Emory Hospital Midtown aviary

The Hospital-Formerly-Known-as-Crawford-Long hosts a number of quirky spaces for quiet reflection, including a giant sculptural wind chime facing Peachtree Street and a koi pond that preserves the vestibule of a demolished nursing school.

But the hospital's quirkiest feature might be the two aviaries that have been tucked within the corridors since 2000. Visitors can watch about 50 small birds living the high life in two rooms with large windows. Speakers amplify the chirps for passersby and there's a display to help the ornithologically challenged identify the residents. (There's also a webpage devoted to the birds' songs.) Hospital employee Mattie Williams has been caring for the birds seven days a week since November 2000-even on weekends. She follows a detailed cleaning procedure for the aviaries that was drawn up by property manager Shari Creech. (Cleaning poop is serious business when you're running a hospital.)

Williams loves the effect that the birds have on visitors. "They enjoy it and I enjoy them enjoying it," she says.

Emory Hospital Midtown chimes sculpture and vestible


Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home

Our Lady of Perpetual Help garden

The garden in back of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is home to the largest tree measured in Atlanta. It's a natural feature so large that the entire facility was built around it in an L-shape. The center was founded in 1939 by two Hawthorne Dominican nuns to serve as a free hospice home to terminally ill cancer patients. It moved to its current home next door to Turner Field in 1973. Sister Florence, the home's administrator, finds the smaller meditation garden in the front of the building just as moving. Built by volunteers from the garden club, it's the one that patients can see out of their windows. "Patients love to go out there," she says. "It brightens their days."


Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House

Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House rock garden

The rock garden at Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House was originally built in 1926 as a landscape feature for the Druid Hills estate of Cator Woolford, the founder of Equifax. That home, also known as "Jacqueland," now offers lodging and meals for families, caregivers and outpatients of Atlanta hospitals. The wooded garden's small waterfall flows into two pools, the second of which features a moated fountain and a carved stone bench. It's as calm as calm gets. Two years ago, Cooper Sanchez, the head gardener at Oakland Cemetery, and Jim Higgenbotham of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, led an award-winning restoration of the garden, which had been in neglect for more than 50 years.


Children's Hospital of Atlanta at Egleston

Children's Hospital of Atlanta at Egleston video aquarium

Kids can be resilient patients but they get bored pretty easily. For the children at CHOA at Egleston, meditation gardens aren't going to cut it, so the hospital and its volunteers keep them busy with a schedule of diversions as packed as any cruise ship's. For patients that are medically able, some of those events take place in the hospital's main garden, which is playfully adorned with birdhouses and pint-sized statues. A "Tree of Life" was planted there by organ transplant recipients.

Inside, the entrance is filled with colorful features like a large interactive video aquarium. The buttons are large and fun to press, but the resulting video is relaxing and calm. The lobby also features Seacrest Studios, a glass room where each afternoon patients can broadcast their own radio show to the CHOA network of hospitals. Musical guest stars drop by from time to time.

Children's Hospital of Atlanta at Egleston teen room and garden Clockwise from top left: The main garden; the Teen Room with drum kit; a patient plays piano outside the Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit; Izzy the service dog in the family library.

Upstairs, in the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, a "teen room" serves patients who have outgrown the regular playroom. Looking like a small clubhouse, the room features a foosball table, game console and a drum kit. The walls and doors are designed to keep the racket to a minimum.

Patients are also entertained by a merry band of therapy dogs who roam the halls with their handlers. "These dogs are celebrities," says Vandie Enloe, the hospital's family library coordinator. She's the handler of Izzy, a 6-year-old golden retriever and certified service dog. The "Canines for Kids" dogs are allowed in almost every part of the hospital, providing companionship before surgery or even during treatments.


Children's Hospital of Atlanta at Scottish Rite

Children's Hospital of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Zone

For the young patients at CHOA Scottish Rite who are medically able, the diversions can be a little sportier and outdoorsy. Like Egleston, the Scottish Rite lobby greets its visitors with a large interactive aquarium; there's an interactive model train set nearby as well.

The lobby also opens onto the Strong4Life teaching garden, which the children help maintain (it's currently closed due to construction). In another part of the facility, there's Brody's Playground, a shady space with playground equipment, named after a patient who died in 2009 of mitochondrial disease.

But for many of Scottish Rite's patients, the main event is the Child Life Zone, a sports-themed therapeutic playroom brought to life by Garth Brooks' Teammates for Kids Foundation. The Zone looks like a man cave taken over by kids, where a foosball table and sports memorabilia meet craft tables stacked with magic markers and pipe cleaners. There's a large party room laid out like a sports arena, a video gaming room and a kitchen that opens up to a viewing area with comfy chairs and multiple TV screens.

Children's Hospital of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Zone Clockwise from top left: The Zone TV viewing area; the gaming center; Brody's Playground; the small ball field.

The Zone hosts 40-50 events a month and even an annual prom. Coordinator Juliet Veal says it's meant to feel like a destination set apart from the inpatient floors. "It looks like a normal space, a getaway from what goes on in the hospital," she says.

Walking out of The Zone, visitors find a koi pond surrounded by a different kind of garden - one that includes a putting green, a basketball shooting court, and space to let kids play with sporting equipment. A hospital stay is no day at camp, but in this space it almost looks like one.


WellStar Cobb Hospital in Austell

WellStar Cobb Hospital Pete Woods Garden

The WellStar parking lot can be tricky to navigate, but for those who persist there's an oasis of green to reward you. The Pete Woods Therapeutic Garden is set around a wide gazebo that overlooks a pond and a fountain. The garden also serves the inpatient hospice facility, called Tranquility, which sits across the street (the garden can be found by following signs saying "Tranquility").

What truly makes the garden therapeutic, however, is the wheelchair-accessible vegetable beds that are tended by hospital patients and master gardener volunteers. Since its inception in 1992, the garden offers occupational therapy to patients in an outdoor setting. "When they're digging with an arm weakened after a stroke, they are fulfilled rather than frustrated," says WellStar Cobb president Amy Carrier. (information provided by Christy Rosell)


Hospice Atlanta Center

Hospice Atlanta Center garden

Eight gardens ring the Hospice Atlanta Center like a leafy necklace, and nearly every room in the building-whether patient room, meeting room, or common area-opens to one of them. The layout underscores the nonprofit center's commitment to giving patients and families the option of movement in and out of the facility. The center is Georgia's first inpatient care hospice center, and it's designed to support families whose first choice is home care, but who need a respite for a few days.

From most patient rooms, beds can be wheeled out onto patios or into one of the gardens. The gardens are in a variety of styles, from rose gardens to promenades to ones with water features, each creating a different calming effect. The center's largest, the Frank Thiebaut Garden, is dedicated to a former patient. It was conceived as a labyrinth before its final design took a few detours. The curving pathways and low hedges still invite contemplative wandering while pairs of facing benches look like they're in intimate conversation with each other.

The garden is a wise choice for anyone seeking solace-and for those in hospice care, having options is solace itself.

Hospice Atlanta Center garden

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X