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Nov 192008
 

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

The benefits of a rooftop garden are not only environmental, but extend to the human spirit. At the Ulfelder Healing Garden atop Massachusetts General Hospital’s Yawkey Cancer Center, those benefits are realized.

The 6,300-square-foot foliage-filled healing garden gives cancer patients and their families a much-needed retreat and helps the hospital conserve energy at the same time. It is just one of the many Boston sites included on tours during this week’s GreenBuild International Conference, a large annual gathering of builders and remodellers sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Bringing green design into health care and hospital building is a growing trend across the U.S.. At Dell Children’s Medical Center, which opened in Austin, Texas in 2007, green has been the focus from the ground up. In fact, says spokesperson Matilda Sanchez, the hospital is waiting to hear if they have achieved “platinum status” in the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program sponsored by the USGBC. Among the many green elements at Dell is a four-story interior healing garden with a waterfall that starts on the top floor, as well as a three-acre healing garden with a labyrinth that can be seen from many of the hospital rooms.

“Dell is setting the bar for hospital buildings,” says Sanchez. “While we were still under construction, many other hospitals looked at what we were doing. There was even a delegation from Australia who came to get ideas.”

“It’s a different way of healiing,” she says. “A patient’s surroundings are important. Eighty percent of our light is natural light. People often say it doesn’t feel like a hospital.”

The Ulfelder Healing garden in Boston, named for the late gynecologist and oncologist Dr. Howard Ulfelder, is located on the 8th floor adjacent to the Cancer Treatment Center and opened in 2005. It was inspired in part by social worker Evelyn Malkin, who said she had had the idea for at least 10 years.

“When my husband was hospitalized and I waited for his recovery, there was only one window that looked out on another brick building. The hospital was not as inviting as it could be. I also remember talking to one woman after treatment. She had bought a plant because she said the plant represented hope and renewal, a continuation of life. There wasn’t another place at the hospital, besides the chapel, where you could gather your thoughts together.”

Malkin says the support group, Friends of Mass General Cancer Center, was eager to initiate a green space at the hospital. Then the question became monetary. Dr. William Shipley, a senior radiation physician at the center, took an interest. As head of the Healing Garden Committee, Dr. Shipley helped to raise the funds needed to make the garden a reality.

Next was the execution. Coming up with a design and construction of a rooftop healing garden in dense, downtown Boston was no easy task. Halvorson Design Partnership, in conjunction with architects Cambridge Seven Associates, were selected for the job, combining two trends in landscape architecture today: green roofs and therapeutic landscaping.