'Garden in a Cube'

Student-designed rooftop garden under construction at Tyler, Texas hospital

A therapeutic garden designed by a team of landscape architecture students from Texas A&M University is nearing completion on the roof of the new Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, Texas.

The award-winning garden, designed by Chris Easter, Allison Walkoviak and Shane Garthoff, was chosen November 2002 in the hospital's "Garden in a Cube" design competition. The winning design team received a $1,000 cash prize, but according to designer Chris Easter, the real award will come in seeing the design become reality.

Another A&M landscape architecture team, Rui Zhang and Shikha Goel, placed second in the competition, earning $500.

The rooftop garden, to be completed in the summer of 2003, will occupy a large cube-shaped area on the hospital's fourth floor. It will be enclosed on three sides with three additional stories housing approximately 40 hospital rooms with windows peering down on the garden. The fourth side of the garden and the roof are open and oriented toward the north.

To create the winning design, Easter said his team tried to see things through the patient's eyes, especially those of the children recovering at the hospital.

"Mainly we asked ourselves, if we were in the hospital, like these kids, what would we like to see," he said. "Additionally, therapeutic gardens should be very healing, with something green, something with color."

The team also took accessibility into account, creating a design allowing plenty of access to wheelchair-bound patients.

All of the students participating in the "Garden in a Cube" competition received an invaluable, real-life experience, said Jody Naderi, the A&M landscape architecture professor who coordinated the A&M team entries.

"The design culture is nurtured through competition; it elevates us all to consider solutions which push the envelope of what is acceptable as a standard, she said. "The effect of the competition in the school is to make the effort to stretch for excellence."

"This is how it works with great projects," she added. "You compete, you win, and you get the job. "I wish we could do more of this kind of thing. It is a jumpstart on the students' careers."

Easter said he plans to monitor the construction of the garden to see what parts of the design are changed during the process and to learn why the changes were necessary.

"Having the chance to see their submission go very quickly from idea to construction is invaluable as a learning forum," Naderi said, "We are greatly indebted to Mother Frances Hospital for creating this opportunity."

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