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The Exterior: Spencer Finch's 250,000 Sq. Feet Curtain Wall

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The Exterior: The Magical Frit, Lantern and Snow Globe

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Setting the Stage: Set Designer Robert Israel's Super-Sized Sculptures

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Medicine for the Soul: Over 300 Works of Art Inspired by Beloved Children's Books

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Dioramas, Tabletops and More

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Windows on Baltimore's Tradition: Jim Boyd's Window Shades

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Artful Wayfinding

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The Canopy: An Unmistakable Point of Arrival


Fun with Alphabets


Over 200 Works of Art Inspired by Nature and the Garden


Landscape Design


The Exterior: The Ever-Changing Language of the Color Alphabet 

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The collaboration is clearly visible, even miles away.  Covering almost the entire exterior of the building in a seamless bond is a massive and intricate multi-colored work of art by Spencer Finch.  

Each aluminum panel is encased in a shadowbox construction made out of two layers of glass through which shines one of Finch’s color alphabet—a carefully distilled palette of 26 shades—inspired by Claude Monet’s Impressionist landscape paintings and Finch’s visits to Monet’s studio outside Paris.  Finch used blue as the dominant color for the Bloomberg Children’s Center and green for the Sheik Zayed Tower.  

“From the beginning we were thinking about glass as an analogue for water, how glass and water behave in similar ways, and what we could do with the glass so that it’s always changing,” says Finch. “Also it’s a big building and it can be intimidating, but water has a certain softness and welcoming aspect to it.”

The result is a shimmering exterior that captures the light of the sky, allowing the building to change in sync with the environment, establishing it as a natural and inviting presence.  While the glass and color accentuate the curves and dimples of the building, its transparency beckons the community. 

Known for his mastery of light and color, Finch spent months testing and developing a broad range of colors for the building’s exterior, even observing test panels on the roof of a garage across from the Bloomberg Children’s Center site to understand how his palette would play with Baltimore’s light.  Then he worked closely with the architects, who provided technical guidance, to devise the best way to execute his vision and ensure that the colors remain true. 

“We went back and forth a lot to really think about the connection between materials used and how the colors would be perceived since this is a work of art that will be around for a long time as part of the building,” says Eric Van Aukee of Perkins + Will, managing principal on the project.  “So we put a system together with crystal clear glass that would always render Finch’s true colors and we tested it rigorously to ensure that it would stand up to the elements such as sun, high winds, condensation and rain.”

“For other buildings, the art is usually done as an application to the exterior in the form of a specific work,” says Aukee, “but here, the art is very integrated into the functionality of the building.  With Spencer, we were really able to transform the approach to the skin of the building—thinking of it not just as protection but also as a canvas.  Together we turned a piece of building protection, the “building envelope”  into a work of art.”

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The Magical Frit, Lantern and Snow Globe 

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Recalling Monet’s brushstrokes and the rippling of water, Finch devised a ‘frit’ pattern for the building’s glass windows and walls. A two-layer composition, his hand-drawn strokes are fused onto the building’s glass and steel curtain wall, reflecting and refracting color and light. 

Finch’s frit brushstrokes are magically visible from the outside but do not obstruct the view from inside.  The frit pattern softly punctuates the building’s glass façade, transforming the Bloomberg Children’s Center by night into a glowing lantern, suggesting a snow globe filled with bustling activity.  

“There’s a certain amount of complexity in the design,” says Finch, “and a feeling of activity and aliveness that reflects all the great stuff that happens here.”

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Artistic Wayfinding

The art and design of the new Johns Hopkins Hospital also have practical functions.  The wayfinding is keyed to Spencer Finch’s palette for the building exterior, which is predominantly blue for the Bloomberg Children’s Center and green for the Sheik Zayed Tower. 

The presence of Spencer’s blue tones throughout the interior of the Bloomberg Children’s Center—in all of the elevator lobbies, along the patient floors, even on the walkway of the bridge that leads into the building—immediately lets visitors know that they are in the children’s section of the hospital or on a path towards it.  In the same way, the color green signals to visitors that they are in or around the Sheik Zayed Tower.

In the Bloomberg Children’s Center, there is a unique work of art in every one of the 12 elevator lobbies, each inspired by a different book.  This idea of linking reading and healing continues throughout the reception and waiting areas and along its main circulation routes.  In the Sheik Zayed Tower, the works of art are inspired by the idea of nature and the garden.  As patients and visitors navigate through the building, they will discover unique works of art that become memorable landmarks that help with wayfinding. 

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The Canopy:  An Unmistakable Point of Arrival

The artful skin of the building hugs the exterior and works in tandem with the long upward curving canopy, which stretches along the entire length of the entrance to provide a clear and unmistakable point of arrival.  

“This is the only hospital I know of with all its public entrances—for general visits as well as for emergencies—gathered in one area, under the canopy.  So when you arrive, the architecture guides you in, no matter which direction you are coming from.  Even if you are under a lot of stress, the building makes it easy,” says Sally MacConnell, Johns Hopkins Health System vice president for facilities. 

The canopy, together with the pedestrian bridges (which connect the hospital and the parking lot) and the entry plaza’s football-field long tapestry of green all work together to visually reinforce and reaffirm a visitor’s arrival.  

These features also work together to make the massive hospital structure feel less intimidating. While the canopy and the bridges help to reduce the scale of the building, the landscaping and gardens soften one’s approach. 

Designed by Susan Weiler of Olin, the landscaping for the hospital’s entry plaza features long rows of planting in horizontal banding that provide a visual display of colors in every season. The planting patterns evoke the movement, colors and patterns of the building’s vibrant glass façade.  When viewed from above, the entry plaza plantings will “reflect” Finch’s work to those inside. 

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Setting the Stage with Playful, Super-Sized Sculptures 

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The airy bi-level lobby and its four-story atrium reinforce the feeling of accessibility and openness that permeates the building.  When considering how artworks could enliven these entry spaces, curator Rosen proposed reaching out to set designers.   In the natural course of their activities, these magicians of the stage are experts at dealing with active, populated spaces, and are thoroughly accustomed to working collaboratively. 

Based on a series of enchanting concept sketches, stage and set designer Robert Israel was brought on board.  Rather than just filling the space, Israel’s work transforms the area to continue the sense of delight sparked by the shimmering glass of the building’s exterior. 

“My father was a doctor.  As a child I would sometimes have the opportunity to join him on his rounds and I can still remember the feelings of apprehension and nervousness that went along with these excursions,” remembers Israel. “The Hopkins spaces became a fantastic opportunity to bring a sense of fun and playfulness to this very formidable institution.  So I started with very basic, block-like shapes, and made an effort to include pairs or groups to remind children that they are not alone.” 

Israel, who lives in Los Angeles and teaches at UCLA, has been collaborating with Fabrication Specialties in Seattle to bring his sculptures to life.  The super-sized menagerie will be loaded onto two 40-foot trucks for their nearly 3,000-mile journey to Baltimore in March, where they will be assembled and installed. 

When they arrive, the creatures will add a dab of magic. When seen from the outside through the fritted glass, Israel’s 22-foot high brightly colored ostrich, which will be attached to the ceiling of the four-story atrium, will look like a figure in a snow globe.  Nearby, an ostrich egg will be perched on the lobby’s information desk.

Swimming above the broad stairway that connects the ground floor and the main 

level lobbies is a family of giant puffer fish. And suspended beyond the main level information desk is a flying cow with a nine-foot wingspan, heading towards a ring of the 28 phases of the moon.

Just outside, a very colorful huge rhinoceros, with a baby rhino on its back, both built out of block-like cubes, will stand (over 20 feet high) in wait at the entrance to the Bloomberg Children’s Center’s Emergency Department.  The craggy, uneven pavement at its feet is evidence of its weighty stature and rootedness in the community. 

“I did not get to see the final building before I designed the sculptures.  I worked with architecture plans and models and tried to figure it out.  About a year and a half ago, the architects helped me inflate some giant balloons in the space to test and tweak the relationship of the sculptures to the building,” remembers Israel.  “If it’s a good collaboration, in the end you don’t know what you are responsible for.  It all melts together. This was a good collaboration.”

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Windows on Baltimore’s Tradition 

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When faced with the opportunity to introduce art into the children’s rooms, the project team came up with a unique response—turning the window shades into practical works of art.  Artist Jim Boyd took some cues from the local Baltimore tradition of painting the screen doors and windows of one’s row house. 

To come up with the designs, Boyd met with doctors as well as with patients and their families to get their input.  

“We wanted designs that were both informative and illustrative,” says Boyd.  “So we loaded the shades with lots of fun references and images peculiar to Baltimore.  For example, on several of the shades, we included local landmarks Camden Yards, the pagoda in Patterson Park, the historic Shot Tower, and also the Bromo-Seltzer tower, which was inspired by the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and was the tallest building in Baltimore until 1923.”

Throughout the hospital there are seven different window shade designs.  With Johns Hopkins’ international profile in mind, Boyd also drew on the tradition of flash cards and quilts.  These shades feature childhood objects that are identified in more than 30 languages.

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Medicine for the Soul – Book-Inspired Art 

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Inspired in part by the words inscribed over the entrance to the library in ancient Thebes--Medicine for the Soul--the art for the public spaces of the Bloomberg Children’s Center celebrates books and reading, and draws on Johns Hopkins’ strong reading program and participation in the national Reach Out and Read initiative. 

“We wanted the art in the building to celebrate the power of books as a means to promote healing,” says curator Nancy Rosen.  “Honoring children’s books and the joy of reading will give the patients, their families and the hospital community a way to discover hundreds of works of art, and to connect them with the world of books.”  

Rosen’s search for artists for the Bloomberg Children’s Center extended across the country, but she also drew heavily from artists in the region, ultimately selecting a diverse collection of creative voices to produce works related to over 40 beloved children’s books. They include Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollboth, Walter Dean Myers’ Hoops, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, and Ruth Krauss’ A Hole is to Dig, as well as older classics such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.

The artists come from a variety of backgrounds and have created works ranging from ceramic sculptures to collages, photographic prints, watercolors and paintings.  Each artist was encouraged to read and select books that spoke to his or her individual experience and imagination.  The artists include Casey Ruble, who chose books with elements of nature, evoking her childhood on a ranch in Montana, and Rolla Herman who has produced large-scale linocuts based on the Dr. Seuss books she loved as a child.  Sylvan Lionni’s large, colorful painting for one of the Bloomberg Children’s Center elevator lobbies was inspired by the book Pezzetino, which was written by his grandfather, Leo Lionni, and which he now reads to his own son. 

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Art Incorporated Into Reception Furniture; Dioramas in Walls 

Some of the artworks are integrated into the architecture and design of the building and interiors. A colorful, glass-enclosed display case is embedded in the walls at the elevator lobby of seven of the children’s floors. Each of these has been outfitted with colorful dioramas created by Baltimore artist Jennifer Strunge.  Using recycled clothing and cloth, Strunge has populated each niche with soft, fanciful groups of creatures—including monkeys, bunnies and an octopus—holding and reading actual books.

These dioramas serve a dual purposethey help in wayfinding, providing artful location clues; they also open a window into a special world, encouraging patients, their families, and the rest of the hospital community to find and explore the other works of art in the building that were inspired by the books on display, as well as many more. 

Other unique artworks are incorporated into the sculpture-like furniture designed by the architects.  The shaped-painting created by artist Sylvan Lionni for the main level welcome desk may remind patients and visitors of a colorful game board or the seating plan at a stadium.  Set under the glass top of the desk near the ground floor entry is an ink and watercolor drawing of an intricate network of rooms, the invention of artist Scott Teplin. Tiny, familiar objects encircle the border of his enormous watercolor. Curious visitors might try to spy Teplin’s objects hidden within his imaginary spaces.

The spiraling information desks in the lobby of the ground level and at the entry to the main level serve as pedestals for sculptures created especially for the building, including Kate Malone’s The Bouquet, which rises from the curving top of the desk, and a ceramic sculpture by Kathy Butterly

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Art Inspired by Nature and the Garden

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Over 50 artists, working in many mediums, have shared their personal perspectives on nature and the garden.  Some have focused on the delicate details of petals and rocks; others have adopted a more panoramic view. In elevator lobbies, reception spaces, waiting areas and public corridors, the works of art on permanent view throughout the building are intended to provide patients and their families with moments of comfort and beauty. 

Expanding on the idea of nature, sculptures incorporated into the information desks in the lobby are created out of one of the most basic elements found in the natural world: clay. London-based artist Kate Malone’s bud-like form is covered with hundreds of petals and florets glazed with more than 20 colors, suggesting a lilac or a hydrangea. Kathy Butterly’s ceramic sculpture is inspired by the tradition of Chinese scholars’ rocksgeological wonders, collected and treasured for their naturalistic shapes. Under the glass top of a desk, Polly Apfelbaum has assembled disk-shaped blocks, each a cross section from a fallen branch. Applying colored inks, she uses similar dogwood blocks to create distinctive woodblock prints that can be found in other parts of the facility.

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Fun with Alphabets 

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In conjunction with the broader celebration of books and the pleasures of reading and being read to, several playful alphabets can also be discovered in the Bloomberg Children’s Center. 

Baltimore artist and MICA graduate Lauren P. Adams collaborated with pediatric patients at Hopkins to create a special alphabet for the new building. Over the course of several workshops, Adams taught the young patients how to make patterned cut-outs using a process called papel picado. This technique of folding and cutting paper comes from a folk art tradition, popular especially in Mexico and other Latin American countries. To craft the final alphabet, Adams brought together many of the patients’ unique cut-outs to create 26 uppercase letters. The final designs were then printed as color silkscreens, under Adams’ supervision, by Baltimore Print Studios. 

In addition, all 26 colors of Spencer Finch’s color alphabet are on view at eye-level along the side of the building, arranged in alphabetical order. 

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Landscape Design

The gardens designed for the new building serve as places of orientation, respite and rejuvenation. The verdant, brick-paved entry drive and succession of outdoor spaces offer visitors places to find shade and opportunities to enjoy the seasonal changes of the leaves, blossoms and fruits. Many of the plantings, including varieties of lavender, rosemary, barberry, roses and magnolia, were chosen for their ancient associations with healing. The landscape architect, OLIN, developed the design so that patients, families and visitors looking down from the building can enjoy the patterns, colors and pleasures of the courtyard gardens.

At the northernmost end of the entrance area, adjacent to the glass-enclosed lobby of the Zayed Tower, is the Meditation Garden. Intended as a place of calm and quiet, this outdoor room is graced with gentle water features, sculptural trees and patterned stonework.