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Visionary landscaping now in place at Clements University Hospital

From staff reports

World-renowned landscape architect Peter Walker, founder of PWP Landscape Architecture, has designed outdoor green spaces and unique landscapes for UT Southwestern Medical Center’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital. Mr. Walker’s compelling vision was made possible by a $4.5 million gift from Mrs. Eugene McDermott in concert with the McDermott Foundation. 

The outdoor spaces around William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital have been carefully installed to provide a comforting, patient-centric environment that includes a pair of self-contained fountains across from the entryway.
The outdoor spaces around William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital have been carefully installed to provide a comforting, patient-centric environment that includes a pair of self-contained fountains across from the entryway.

A truly patient-centric environment demands the positive effects induced by green spaces and calming gardens,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “This project promotes both the healing of our patients and the well-being of our health care providers by serving as a glorious respite from the daily pressures of a thriving modern Medical Center. The natural environment surrounding the Clements University Hospital will be regarded as an exceptional place of sanctuary and recuperation.”

Locally, Mr. Walker also has designed the outdoor exhibition space at the Nasher Sculpture Center in the Arts District and transformative landscapes at UT Dallas. He also designed the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City, the United States Embassy in Beijing, and many other projects of international significance. 

Rows of cypress trees soon will be blooming as spring arrives.
Rows of cypress trees soon will be blooming as spring arrives.

During the installation, Mr. Walker took time to address some key points:

What concerns do you encounter at a medical center that you don’t find on projects like a university campus or a museum?

There are two main parts to a hospital – where people come in and out and where people stay. The issue for people coming in and out is to keep the landscape very calm. Whether people are patients or potential patients, visitors, or family, they need a sort of calm approach to the hospital. And, of course, everyone is nervous. If it’s a relative of yours, you’re nervous about your loved one; if it’s yourself, you’re nervous about you. Almost everything that happens until you go home has this sense of nervousness, so calm is the key to an entrance to a hospital. 

A clinic visitor, on the other hand, is generally less nervous. Clinics need to be tremendously efficient. It’s more like a shopping center – you get people to come in, do what they’re doing, maybe spend an hour, then leave. 

At UT Southwestern, we’re working mostly on the non-clinic part. It’s a question of what people see when they look out the windows. What they see needs to be green and sort of natural, because it’s been shown that recoveries are positively affected by a vision of the outdoors, as opposed to urban settings with cars and so forth. Providing a setting for the building is very important, but I’m really interested in the patients and their loved ones. We’ve implementing a private garden just for patients and families, because they’re foremost in my mind. 

From patient rooms, Clements University Hospital features a striking rooftop garden instead of a normal tar-and-gravel view.
From patient rooms, Clements University Hospital features a striking rooftop garden instead of a normal tar-and-gravel view.

What guided your selection of cypresses as the perfect trees for Clements University Hospital?

The building is very large. It is set back and down from the street. When you’re driving along Harry Hines, you’re looking down and across at this very large building.

We tried to make a kind of forest or orchard so that – when you look down the rows – you will see the building in the context of these trees; it is like looking across an orchard at a very large structure.

One of the reasons I thought the cypress was an interesting tree (of the many great trees in Dallas) is that it probably undergoes the most change. In the spring it’s wonderfully light and delicate, then it goes into a very heavy leaf during the summer, throwing shade across the lawns. Then, in the fall, it turns this brilliant orange. Then it drops the leaves and starts this process all over again. It’s a visually dynamic tree, one of the most dynamic trees in Dallas. 

The facility also offers beautiful gardens that serve as a sanctuary, while still allowing patients to be carefully monitored.
The facility also offers beautiful gardens that serve as a sanctuary, while still allowing patients to be carefully monitored.

What inspired the rooftop rock gardens?

The rooftop gardens are on the sides of the rooms. When patients look out, they don’t see a tar and gravel roof, but a foreground of a garden with the landscape beyond.

You can’t have plants and things up there, so what we tried to create is something that calls up the idea of a garden. You might think of a Japanese garden – gravels and sand and some planting and stones. The big idea is that this is a foreground that takes your eye from the immediate area so you’re looking down, up, and out to the larger landscape beyond.