From Vision to Design to Construction: A View of the Healing Garden from Our Design and Construction Partners

Healing Garden Timelapse ver 3 from Children's Hospital Foundation on Vimeo.

Turning a gravel rooftop into an outdoor Healing Garden for patients at Children’s National was an incredible undertaking and a labor of love. It took years of planning, the commitment and generosity of donors, and the skills of experts to turn this incredible vision into a reality. It was made possible by donors like Heather and Andy Florance, CoStar Group, the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation and partners including architecture and design firm Perkins+Will and DAVIS Construction.

In anticipation of the ribbon-cutting on April 28 that will officially open the Bunny Mellon Healing Garden dedicated to the First Ladies of the United States, we asked Perkins+Will Principal Diana Horvat and DAVIS Construction Senior Executive Vice President Dennis Cotter to reflect on the project, its challenges and successes, and the excitement surrounding the opening.

How did you first get involved in this project?

Diana Horvat: We were approached by Andy Florance as a part of our long-term partnership with CoStar Group and DAVIS Construction to team up again around this pro-bono project. Our team’s relationship and trust enabled us to quickly dive into the planning of the project and commit to a pro-bono project of this magnitude and complexity.  

Dennis Cotter: It started with a conversation between Andy, Diana, and me. We’ve partnered with their firms for the past decade. We were all in it together, every step of the way. Team collaboration definitely played a major role in its success.

How did the mission of the garden – to serve sick children and their families – affect how you approached the project?

Cotter: This was always about the children and, of course, their families. We considered the patient our client, and we kept that front of mind throughout the entire project.

Horvat: The Healing Garden project was especially meaningful knowing the positive impact it would have on sick children and their families. Given the nature of the healthcare environment, we needed to engage with multiple stakeholders, and it was particularly important to us that we balance the aspirations of the children with the requirements for their safety. Working with the entire hospital team, I believe we balanced the myriad of stakeholder needs and achieved a highly successful project.

What were some of the biggest challenges?

Horvat: The Healing Garden was a very unique project without precedent at Children’s National. Outdoor gardens have been constructed in new facilities, but the challenge here was to build it in an existing facility within a fully operating hospital.

Cotter: Working in an active hospital is always challenging, but this particular project required very complicated structural steel upgrades. The roof was never originally intended to hold the weight of a garden, fountain, and benches, in addition to people. To perform all of that work on top of an existing 24-hour lab that serviced the entire hospital was an incredible feat.

What are you most proud of?

Horvat: I’m proud that the entire team was able to bring to life a vision for a place where children and their families can share a moment away from their daily medical regimen. I’m also proud of how, together, we transformed a once unattractive space into a welcoming place with a view for all to enjoy.

Cotter: For DAVIS to be a part of something so meaningful in our community is really where we draw the most pride. This garden will be around for a long time, touching the lives of so many people. I think that’s something we can all be proud of.

Are you excited for the ribbon-cutting that will officially open the garden?

Horvat: Yes! I’m very excited to see our vision for this garden and our hard work become a wonderful reality for children, their families, and the entire staff at Children’s National for many years to come. 

Cotter: Absolutely! We may have completed the project, but in truth it’s just beginning for the children and everyone else at the hospital.

The Bunny Mellon Healing Garden dedicated to the First Ladies of the United States has been years in the making. Learn more about how this special space went from a vision to a reality.

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