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Regarding Sacred Landscapes

Toronto East General Hospital Terrace Garden

Originally published in Hospital News, 2004


Tales of the Earth was posed with a challenging assignment – to transform a neglected, narrow fifth-floor rooftop at Toronto East General Hospital into a terrace garden where seventy-five residents of the Complex Continuing Care Unit could discover backyard pleasure and joy. The terrace garden became a physical expression of a vision of the Unit to provide a safe, caring environment for its residents and their support network. Drawing on qualities of sacred landscapes, the garden became a home in a safe, caring environment – one that respects and values the diversity of residents and their support network; a place in which to reconstruct a sense of reassurance and restoration of confidence gained through healthful aging; a landscape providing spaces for both privacy and interaction with others.

Exploring various design alternatives, we sought to create a garden as an integral part of the hospital environment, meeting requirements and needs of caregivers and those receiving care. We developed garden concepts and schemes with a design vocabulary that speaks to the varied historical and cultural traditions brought by residents from their homelands – Britain, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, Philippines and China. The richness of spaces and details reveal a unique depth of character and meaning to the spirit of the garden without being historically redundant.

A challenging area of 140 feet (42.7 meters) long, and nine to 23 feet (7 meters) wide on a fifth floor flat rooftop, the garden is designed and constructed as a sculpture to stimulate all senses. Landscape contractor was Somerville Construction.

Two richly coloured steel pavilions fabricated by Magus Corporation of Lindsay, Ontario, frame the garden. The dome of the light-blue and stainless steel Temple on the south for private sheltered family visits was inspired by the spiritual sanctuaries where residents once sought refuge. People feel nestled beneath the garden’s elegant wisteria-covered stainless steel dome, layered textures of light and shade, its oculus open to the sky. The yellow-ochre and stainless steel Canopy on the north provides shelter like its ancestor, the old revered hospital willow tree. The Canopy is for active outdoor social gatherings. Both pavilions glow at night with warm gentle illumination. The Piazza is located next to the Temple, its shape inspired by Rome’s Piazza Navonna. A teal-blue tiled table, like a pond, is placed between a pair of Tuscan-red semi-circular trellises covered with climbing vines.

The central path weaves like a dragon from one pavilion to the other between dry-laid sandstone walls containing the planting beds. By gently changing direction, the path offers a vaster experience of space similar to the ‘seen and hidden’ technique used in Japanese stroll gardens, always enabling residents to orient themselves between the stone wall planters. Garden plants were chosen to rejoice in the memories of both the residents’ native lands, as well as their homes on the streets neighbouring the hospital before their moving to Complex Continuing Care. Grapes and roses, fruiting shrubs, aromatic and flowering perennials, and tasty herbs have adapted well to challenging conditions.

The garden is one in which the residents of Complex Continuing Care soon began calling their own backyard, planting tulip bulbs in the beds and holding birthday parties for residents and their families. The garden truly is like home.