STREETERVILLE — Chicago's new Lurie Children's Hospital is at the forefront of drawing on art and architectural atmosphere to enhance healing, and now it's letting that approach spill outside.
The hospital recently unveiled a new sculpture, Mark Davis' "Healing Waters," appropriately enough above what's termed the "welcoming island" where most patients are dropped off.
The massive sculpture, about 40 feet by 25 feet, is suspended above the roadway below. It uses undulating forms made from carbon fiber molded plates, a surfboard-like material, to suggest rippling water. Davis designed it to create a soothing, welcoming presence and to connect thematically with the nearly life-size sculptures of a mother humpback whale and her calf donated by the Shedd Aquarium for the hospital's ground-floor lobby.
"I love it. I think it's awesome," said Lisa Mulvaney, coordinator of Lurie's Creative Arts Program. "I love the blues and the greens. I love the smooth, kind of flowing nature of it."
The Boston-based Davis had previously done work for Gigi and Michael Pucker, who were instrumental in awarding him the commission through the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation. Yet Davis, whose work is an offshoot of the mobiles created by Alexander Calder, had never done anything so large, nor surrendered the work to others from his own design.
"This is actually very typical of the sort of forms I usually use, except that I've done them in my workshop by hand," Davis said. "To do something on this scale, and also to not actually be doing the work on it, but to be giving it over to factories, it was a huge leap of faith. And I couldn't be happier with the way it came out."
The hospital, which opened this summer, in effect transferred from Children's Memorial in Lincoln Park, is known for using art and architecture to enhance the healing process. Mulvaney, whose background is in child development, has worked with civic institutions ranging from the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lookingglass Theatre to create areas in the hospital attuned to the unique demands and conditions of those treated there.
"We want art that's unambiguously positive," Mulvaney said. "We don't want smiley faces all over the hospital, but we don't want images that could portray negative situations."
Bare, wintry trees, for instance, are out as too negative, suggesting death to children who, she said, "are already scared, and it's overwhelming." They know they're sick, she added, and their thoughts can all too readily seize on anything suggesting illness.
Likewise, wards where children are treated with drugs that might have hallucinogenic side effects need to avoid abstract and potentially threatening shapes. Elsewhere, pictures of, say, a monkey baring its teeth need to be studied to determine if it seems smiling or on the attack.
"I work with kids to help them adjust to the hospital environment," Mulvaney said. "When you're designing for kids at a hospital, it's like a whole different world."
A world that is being studied for its effect on patients. Lurie is part of the Pebble Project, a group of 50 hospitals worldwide researching the impressions hospital design makes on patients. It is also taking part in a pioneering study with the Center for Health Design to "examine the impact of hospital design on stress levels in hospitalized children and its parents."
That study, thus far, has focused on the influence of the Crown Sky Garden, the indoor garden on the 11th floor of the 23-story building, for its effect on patients, but now it will gauge the welcoming effect of "Healing Waters" as well.