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The Vail Garden Wall at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation
Landscape Architecture and Lighting Design by NBBJ


The garden was designed by NBBJ Landscape Architects with heavy input from the Vail family, who are friends of the clinic with a keen interest in architecture and garden design. The focal point of the space is the 5.5' tall, 70' long glass wall that stretches across the garden space. Its artful illumination required collaboration between NBBJ and the wall's builder.
Photos: NBBJ

The Cleveland Clinic is one of the most highly respected medical institutions in the world, revered for its advancements in research, technology and clinical procedures.

Through its notoriety as a top-tier healthcare design firm, NBBJ was selected to design a new heart hospital that would assist the Cleveland Clinic in strengthening its brand while helping to attract and retain top talent in various fields of medicine.

NBBJ's landscape architects were involved from the project's inception. In the midst of the design process, Tom and Iris Vail, life-long residents of Cleveland and long-standing friends of the Clinic, expressed interest in providing funding for the development of a special garden at the Cleveland Clinic's new Heart Center. The Vails share a keen interest in architecture and garden design, and have been instrumental in the development of other landmark garden spaces on the Clinic's campus over the last 25 years. They desired a design that expresses the garden in a modern way, fitting with the forward thinking vision of the Clinic. The narrow but prominent space at the Heart Center's front door was selected as the best site for the garden.



The lighting of the Vail Garden Wall at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation was carefully designed to accentuate the ashlar pattern of the wall and its reflection in the pool below. To ensure its perfection, wall designer Berman Glass Studio, a division of Forms+Surfaces, created a number of mock-ups (inset). An internal mirrored wall was sandblasted to make it essentially disappear, allowing the external glass wall to appear monolithic.

Infrastructure, Concept, and Components
The Garden's engages the clinic's visitors by providing a beautiful visual landscape that uplifts and inspires. Two outdoor spaces defined by a glass-enclosed indoor space connect a new linear lobby to the Clinic's original building. The indoor connector is designed so that the reflecting pool unites all spaces, inside and outside. As a landscape to be viewed but not inhabited, the Garden bears a museum-like quality.

The Vail Garden is about beauty and simplicity: abstract in nature and understood as art, architecture, or landscape. Considering the historic influence and universal appeal of the garden, the space is composed of the most basic elements of fine gardens throughout the world, including a garden wall, a pool, a hedge, a fence, a path, and a planting bed.

The most prominent feature of the Garden is the 5.5' tall and 70' long garden wall. NBBJ's lighting designer, Melanie Taylor, worked with The Berman Glass Studios (recently acquired by Form+Surfaces) to design the garden wall. The landscape architects developed the concept for garden spaces and elements that included the wall, and coordinated with Joel Berman and his artisans in the wall's detailing, visiting their design and fabrication facilities as mock-ups of the walls were created.



The wall is lit internally with ganged 30-watt LED strips that are set in a track on both sides of an internal mirrored wall. Each strip is 2.7" wide and 13.5" long with die cast aluminum housing; there are 60 on each side of the wall. The color kinetic lights are flexible in that they can be changed for seasonal interest or special events, but the wall is most often lit with a warm-white setting.

The wall consists of several full height, textured glass panels arranged in an ashlar pattern with recesses and extrusions to create depth. Glass blocks of varying lengths were applied to the surface to create further variation.

A significant challenge in the detailing of the wall was determining how the internal metal structural frame could be made invisible from view so the wall would appear monolithic. To solve this issue, a second glass wall with a sandblasted mirror finish was constructed within the outer wall enclosure, covering the structural elements while maintaining its visual simplicity and integrity.

The groundcover bed is a living carpet of pachysandra that is low to the ground surface and easily maintained. Rectangular beds of flowers, including tulips, impatiens, and mums, are strategically placed within the groundcover to provide slivers of seasonal color. The flowers are changed throughout the growing season to ensure that color is consistently present.


The garden itself was inspired by the most basic elements of formal gardens found worldwide: a garden wall, a pool, a hedge, a fence, a path and planting beds. The groundcover, pachysandra, is kept low to the ground for easy maintenance, while rectangular flowerbeds spaced throughout provide seasonal color, often using tulips, impatiens, or mums. The foot-wide garden path composed of crushed granite provides a visual recess between the pachysandra and the reflecting pool. A gate provides the only access to this path, for maintenance purposes only. The overall design of the garden was intended to be museum-like: seen, but not touched.

The 8' tall manicured hedge is a significant element of the garden as well, contrasting with the glass garden wall. Hemlock was selected for its soft texture, density, shade tolerance and dark green color. The glass wall is lit internally with ganged LED strips set in a track on both sides of the mirrored portion. Each 30-watt strip is 13.5" long and 2.7" wide; there are 60 set on either side of the wall. While the color kinetic lights can change color for seasonal interest or special events, the wall is most often lit with a warm-white setting, which helps silhouette the adjacent hedge against the smooth limestone of the building behind it.

The garden pool consists of a monolithic mass of Canadian black granite resting within a reflecting pool with each side uplit to catch the cleft edges of the stone. The pool is located within the small court, opposite the larger court with its glass garden wall. The gated fence at the north edge of the garden provides the only access into the space. It consists of vertical solid stainless steel rods anchored by a continuous footing located below grade. The garden path is only a foot wide and consists of crushed granite to allow a pathway for maintenance. It also serves as a visual recess between the pachysandra and the granite curb of the reflecting pool.

The reflecting pool is a panel of shallow water at the base of the glass garden wall that extends through all three garden spaces, inside and out. The lighted wall is beautifully reflected in the water after dusk when viewed from the lobby space.

Project Team
Project Name: The Cleveland Clinic Foundation Vail Garden
Design Firm: NBBJ

Consultants: Joel Berman Glass Studios, Georgia Fountains

As seen in LASN magazine, April 2016.

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October 15, 2019, 4:48 am PDT

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