Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

Hospital plans integrate the therapy of nature

Gardens at the expanded Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford include places for play and relaxation.


Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, called nature “the healer of all disease,” and the concept of gardens and greenery as a healing element has deep roots in both Asian and Western cultures. Monasteries in the Middle Ages featured elaborate gardens to soothe the ill, and Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, championed a pavilion hospital design with courtyard gardens and an open-air layout after noting the curative effect of nature on the ill.

The Stanford University Medical Center Renewal Project builds on this long-standing tradition with extensive gardens and green spaces that integrate seamlessly with the new hospital buildings. Diverse landscapes have been designed for relaxation and quiet, or socializing and play, addressing the wide-ranging needs of patients and their families, as well as visitors and staff.

“Nature has always been an important part of the hospital and was a key factor in the expansion plans from the very beginning,” said Jill Ann Sullivan, RN, MSN, vice president of hospital transformation and space planning at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. “The gardens are designed for healing, to give patients and their families a chance to relax, enjoy the outdoors and take their minds off the high-tech aspects of medical care.”

Design based on data

Access to nature is a key factor in reducing patient and staff stress and leads to better outcomes, according to the Center for Health Design, a nonprofit organization of health care designers.

Studies that measured blood pressure, muscle tension, stress hormones, or heart and brain electrical activity have shown that spending time in natural surroundings helps to reduce stress and anxiety, speed recovery and increase patient well-being. And integrating nature into a hospital setting has shown to improve outcomes, with shorter hospital stays, faster healing, fewer postsurgical complications and reduced need for pain medication.

Landscapes for families

Outdoor environments are a major component of the children’s hospital expansion, which is scheduled to open in late 2017. The expansion’s design, by award-winning architectural firm Perkins+Will in association with HGA Architects and Engineers, will add 521,000 square feet to the approximately 300,000-square-foot existing hospital, with a total of 326 beds on-site, private rooms, state-of-the-art operating suites and family-friendly amenities.

The children’s hospital expansion includes a design concept that integrates nature seamlessly into the overall experience. A network of gardens adds 3.5 acres of greenery, with a water-efficient landscape of native plants, educational and engaging sculptures for children to explore and secluded nooks in which to sit and relax.

A commitment to the environment was a driving force behind the design, which puts sustainability and “green” systems as a top priority. The landscaping features shrubs, trees and grasses that can thrive in California’s arid climate and provide natural habitats for local birds and insects. Concrete pavers create secure footing while allowing rainwater to permeate into the ground. No potable water will be used for landscaping: Two 55,000-gallon underground cisterns will store rainwater and condensate water (water extracted from dehumidified indoor air) for irrigation, which is predicted to save as much as 800,000 gallons of water per year.

The children's hospitall features the Dunlevie Garden with play areas and quiet spots for reflection.


“Packard really embraced landscape as a central design concept,” Sullivan said. “Nature has been integrated throughout all the building design, so that even if you are not able to be outside, at least you can see green space and trees.”

The Dunlevie Garden, adjacent to the outdoor dining area near the hospital entrance, will feature open areas where patients and siblings can play as well as quiet spots for privacy and family connection. Situated near the corner of Welch and Quarry roads, the Emerald Garden will feature an open lawn that can be used for events, a children’s play area and stone retaining walls. The Ford Family Garden will be a respite where physicians and staff can socialize and decompress. Each floor will feature overlook areas, and every patient room window will have a planter box to ensure a view of greenery from the bedside.

A green environment

Gardens and landscaping have been integrated into the new Stanford Hospital, providing  patients, families, visitors and staff easy access to numerous places for rest, reflection, relaxation and healing. The 824,000-square-foot hospital, which is scheduled to open in 2018, will feature more than 360 new beds, a greatly enlarged emergency department, and state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment rooms.

A design highlight will be the 40,000-square-foot garden on the third floor of the new building, with California native and drought-tolerant plants and mature trees scattered among paved walking paths and carefully designed topography. Set 60 feet above ground level, the rooftop Goldman Garden — named to acknowledge the generosity of philanthropists John and Marcia Goldman — will provide sweeping views of the nearby foothills as a backdrop to the medical center.

“The gardens help to humanize the scale of the new hospital and provide flexible spaces for patients, visitors and staff to sit, linger and rest,” said Grace Hsu, director of design management for Stanford Health Care. “They also offer a chance for discovery, with private niches and spots that suit different moods and needs.”

Gardens were designed by San Francisco landscape designer Gary Strang, who worked closely with hospital project architect Rafael Viñoly and Fred Kent from the Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit public space planning organization, to establish a cohesive sense of nature in a hospital setting. The resulting layout incorporates low-water plants, grasses and trees, such as Mexican lily, agave, Mondo grass, flowering currant, magnolias and black pine, which frame meandering pathways for strolling and inviting spots to sit. These water-efficient selections will be irrigated with recycled rainwater and condensate captured from the building air conditioning and medical equipment, saving an estimated 364,304 gallons of water per year compared with water use in the current hospital.

“There was a lot of discussion about sustainability and the importance of being careful stewards of the environment,” Hsu said. “Our decisions about what to plant and how to maintain the grounds resonates with our philosophy of how we take care of our patients.”
The design also features an outdoor respite area adjacent to the new emergency department, with medicinal plants and sculptures, and a broad promenade with food kiosks, a pet park and shaded areas for seating.

Learn more about the Stanford University Medical Center Renewal Project at

Footer Links: