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Gardens of Mercy:
Baltimore Hospital's Green Roof



By Lydia Stone Kimball, ASLA, LEED AP BD+C



A three-year, $400 million expansion of Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center culminated in the December 2010 opening of the 18-story Mary Catherine Bunting Center. The hospital enhanced the healing environment with three sustainable, therapeutic roof gardens terraced over three floors. Tree plantings include amelanchiers and Armstrong maples, and a Cherry laurel hedge runs along patient windows to create space and privacy.

Founded in 1874 by a group of six Catholic Sisters of Mercy in Baltimore, Maryland, Mercy Medical Center is one of the nation's top 100 hospitals and a teaching hospital for the University of Maryland. Located in the heart of downtown Baltimore, it is Mercy's signature facility in a network of community health centers. The hospital has occupied the same site since its founding as the Baltimore City Hospital 138 years ago.

Like many urban hospitals, Mercy was faced with the difficult task of improving the care environment of a facility with an aging infrastructure.

 




The 8th floor garden offers a fountain, trellis structure, tables and chairs, multiple seasonal plantings and space for a future commissioned sculpture. Paving is dimensional bluestone/flagstone with granite accents and banding. Other seating options include stone benches along the stone dust path, and a series of seat walls surrounding the fountain.

 

In 2007, Mercy received the largest philanthropic gift in its history, paving the way for a $400 million expansion that became the Mary Catherine Bunting Center, an 18-story, 686,000 square foot hospital that opened December 19, 2010.
While planning the expansion, the design team started with hospital administration requirements for a healing environment that would benefit patients, their families and hospital staff, while focused on environmental sustainability. However, limited expansion space, patient access, funds and outdoor areas presented daunting challenges, in addition to a growing regulatory process. The decision to remain on the original site also created challenges for design and construction, but kept the hospital close to its core mission.

 




The new tower is located on St. Paul Street, immediately adjacent to the existing hospital. The expansion narrowed the travel lanes on St. Paul Street by four feet, slowing traffic at Mercy's front door, creating space for widened sidewalks, and allowing for tree plantings that establish a visual link to the historic Preston Gardens across the street.

 

Design
Baltimore-based landscape architectural firm Mahan Rykiel Associates (MRA) worked with AECOM (formerly Ellerbe Becket) to develop a master plan for the Mercy campus, street level landscape, and green infrastructure. Designing healthcare spaces and creating therapeutic, restorative gardens has been part of MRA's practice for more than 29 years. The design team ultimately found an approach that met Mercy's need for a healing and sustainable environment, while creating a flexible framework for future development that features state of the art technologies, energy efficient systems, family-focused care units, an at-grade 'landmark plaza', and three rooftop gardens.

 




The 9th floor garden (left) provides secluded seating areas for individuals or small groups, with more lawn space and less hardscape for a calmer, less formal atmosphere. Paving consists of boardwalk pavers with granite accent bands, and boulders scattered throughout the area also provide aesthetic distinction and seating space.

 

MRA's streetscape master plan addressed the pedestrian and vehicular concerns that the surrounding areas presented. The new tower neighbors the existing hospital, located on St. Paul Street in downtown Baltimore. St. Paul is a busy southbound corridor, adjacent to the east-west Route 40 corridor, and two blocks west of the Jones Falls Expressway, an elevated six-lane highway. The plan narrowed the travel lanes on the street by four feet, slowing traffic at Mercy's front door, creating space for widened sidewalks, and allowing for tree plantings along the street's edge, creating a more hospitable pedestrian environment and establishing a direct visual link to the historic Preston Gardens across the street.

The architect chose to put the main entrance of the building on the 3rd floor, taking advantage of the steeply sloped site and minimizing the building's height at the principal fa?ade on St. Paul Street. The deep setback where the gardens are located presents a modest five-story fa?ade at the front of the building, with a perceived scale that complements the character of the neighboring Preston Gardens. The connection to one of Baltimore's premier public open spaces informed many of the decisions made by the hospital and the city in developing the master plan.

 




Paving patterns establish a flow for the walking spaces, while the granite bands articulate the column grid of the building. The 18-inch-wide bands define planting areas and also serve as narrow walking paths. The lawn panels on all three levels combine to trace a semi-circular form from above, emphasized by the bands of plant material.

 

The design of the building and the roof gardens were intertwined from the beginning. With a core goal of creating outdoor space and virtually no site on the ground for that space to occupy, the roofs provided the only opportunity for a meaningful landscape. The gardens were thoughtfully integrated into the stacking of the building and located near specific care units.

Principles and practices from LEED and the Green Guide for Healthcare were incorporated while designing and planning the expansion. Specific guiding principles for the designers included keeping human health at the core of design, construction and operational strategies; incorporating existing infrastructure; enhancing density and connectivity; managing run-off; enhancing or creating habitat; and creating outdoor places of respite.

 




Like the 8th floor maternity unit, the 9th floor intensive care unit has direct access to the garden on that level. The smaller 10th floor garden is not accessible to visitors, although it is visible from the adjacent waiting area, and all three gardens are visible from windows in the elevator lobby on every floor in the hospital. The gardens are not directly connected to one another.

 

Features
The 8th floor garden offers a bubbling fountain, trellis structure, ample tables and chairs, lush plantings with multiple seasons of interest, and a location for a future commissioned sculpture. Paving is dimensional bluestone/flagstone with granite accents and banding. The boardwalk pavers under the trellis articulate the 'porch' area and separate it for gathering and seating. Moveable tables and chairs in this area allow flexibility in use by individuals or families. Seating elsewhere in the garden includes stone benches along the stone dust path and a series of seat walls surrounding the fountain.

More hospital patients and visitors were able to experience the 8th floor garden after a new Family Childbirth and Children's Center opened on June 10, 2012. The new unit covers more than 70,000 square feet on the 8th and 10th floors, and includes increased space for expecting and recovering mothers and their newborns; a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU); a pediatric unit and a newborn nursery. The NICU's waiting area overlooks the 8th floor gardens.
"More babies are born at Mercy than at any other hospital in Baltimore," said Dr. Robert Atlas, Mercy's Obstetrics and Gynecology department chair. "We are excited to build a new birthplace for Baltimore's babies and to strengthen our commitment to family-centered care in the very best surroundings."

 




Methods from LEED and the Green Guide for Healthcare were used in the garden plan, including incorporating existing infrastructure and a human-health-centric design approach. The plantings improve air quality and serve as a stormwater management system, absorbing and filtering as much as 75 percent of the annual rainfall the building receives.

 

The 8th floor maternity and the 9th floor intensive care units have direct access to the gardens on their respective floors. The smaller 10th floor garden is not accessible to visitors, although it is visible from the adjacent waiting area, and it provides a valuable stormwater function for the whole building. The gardens are not directly connected to one another, but all are visible from windows in the elevator lobby on every floor in the hospital. Their locations also serve wayfinding and orientation functions. The 9th floor garden provides a more intimate space, with more secluded seating areas appropriate for small groups or individual visitors. The focus on this level is on the green space, with less overall hardscape. Paving consists of boardwalk pavers with granite accent bands. A low wall and moveable tables and chairs provide seating, and boulders scattered throughout the area add aesthetic distinction and informal seating space. The larger lawn area on this floor suggests a calm, less formal garden, which provides space for staff and families to relax.

All three gardens were carefully designed to provide visual interest not only at the ground level, but also from above, as they are visible from every floor of the hospital. Paving patterns create strong and recognizable forms; the granite bands articulate the column grid of the building. These bands also define planting areas and, at 18 inches wide, serve as narrow walking paths. The lawn panels on all three levels combine to trace a semi-circular form from above, defined further by bands of plant material. Dramatic views of the Baltimore skyline to the south, east and north from each garden are an additional benefit.

 




Moveable tables and chairs in the paved area of the 8th floor garden provide flexible seating for individuals or families. The boardwalk pavers under the trellis articulate the 'porch' area and separate it for gathering and seating. The maternity unit, also on the 8th floor, has direct access to this garden.

 

Plants
The planting design is similar in the 8th and 9th floor gardens. Amelanchiers, Armstrong maples, Clethra, Itea, Fothergilla and Skimmia provide year-round floral flash with a variety of spring flowers, fall color and berries. On the ground plane, Heuchera, Lenten rose, Liriope, Sweet Autumn clematis and Sedums provide the same seasonal changes. A Cherry laurel hedge along the back of each space provides privacy for patient rooms while allowing filtered views into the garden.

While the health-oriented and sustainable elements are clear within the context of the gardens themselves, the larger benefits to the city environment are just as important. The gardens contribute to local air quality, and, by retaining as much as 75 percent of annual rainfall, improve on-site water quality. Mercy Medical Center's long-standing commitment to the city of Baltimore informed many decisions during construction; the building itself features concrete, brick, glass and metal from regional sources, and the construction jobs and activity associated with such a large expansion was a welcome benefit to the city during the economic downturn. The gardens also provide a habitat for local wildlife, add green to the Baltimore skyline and additional amenity space in the city. The rooftop spaces are available to all hospital users, who largely come from the Baltimore metropolitan area, making the green roofs a place of respite for staff, patients and families in need of rejuvenation.

 




Mahan Rykiel Associates received an Honor Award for Mercy's green roofs in April 2012 from the Maryland chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. This detail highlights the sustainability measures and extensive plantings that were planned for Mercy's roofs.

 

Awards
In 2011, The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Washington, D.C. chapter, presented the Presidential Citation for Urban Design to the Bunting Center, in part for the extensive landscaping and roof gardens. In 2012, Mahan Rykiel Associates received the Honor Award for Mercy's green roofs from the Maryland Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Dr. Kathy Helzlsouer, Mercy's Director of the Prevention and Research Center, said the open garden spaces play a big part in patient therapy and healing. "I refer to them as a spiritual oasis," she said. "That's true for patients and their families, or staff. You just need a break and a nice environment."

Project Team
Architects: AECOM, formerly Ellerbe Becket
Civil Engineers: Whitman Requardt & Associates
Electrical Engineer: Franklin Technical
Fountain Design: Delta Fountains
General Contractor: Whiting Turner
Irrigation Designer: Irrigation Consultants
Landscape Architects: Mahan Rykiel Associates; Steve Kelly, PLA, Project Manager; Heidi Thomas, Landscape Designer
Landscape Contractor: Ruppert Companies
Lighting Designer: Covington Lighting

Vendors
Brick Supplier: Belair Road Supply
Concrete Paver Supplier: Hanover Pavers
Fountain/Seating Stone: Allstone Group
Granite Supplier: Cold Spring Granite
Greenscreen Supplier: BV Associates
Interiors/Landmark Signs: Gensler
Paving Contractor: Interlock Paving
Roofing/Waterproofing: Gordon Contractors
Stone Mason: Rugo Stone





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August 24, 2019, 10:37 pm PDT

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