Landscape architect Derek Kalp collaborated closely with a design team to develop the healing garden at Mount Nittany Medical Center, located in State College, PA, with the objective to offer peace and solace for patients and guests during their stay. Large sandstone boulders, which were quarried in the region, enhance the natural characteristic of the serene outdoor setting. “This therapeutic garden is about providing a place of refuge and respite for patients, visitors and staff that’s accessible to everyone,” explained Kalp. “The strolling garden paths create large leaf shapes that can also be viewed from patient rooms above for those who can’t make it out into the garden.”
The primary garden space is a terrace with a large boulder feature and waterfall as its center attraction. “The idea was to use the boulders to partition the plaza into two garden rooms with a connecting window and a sheet of cascading water that replaces the glass,” said the landscape architect. “The feature is oriented on the north/south axis so that low-angled sunlight in the mornings and evenings can shine through the water.”
Homewood sandstone – supplied by Russell Stone Products of Grampian, PA — forms the large boulder/water feature in the main terrace, as well as the stone slab steps leading down to the strolling garden. Tuscarora sandstone, otherwise known as “Mountain Stone” from Russell Stone Products’ Bald Eagle Ridge quarry in Howard, PA, was the material of choice for the “standing” and “reclining” stones in the staff garden space outside the lounge and break rooms.
“Once I came up with the idea for the water feature and the composition of large boulders, I knew that the Homewood sandstone would work best because I could get the different sizes that I needed, it’s easily workable with a variety of finishes and it’s locally sourced,” explained Kalp. “For the staff garden, I wanted to go in a different direction and feature these beautiful mountain stones from a nearby ridgetop. These stones have been weathering in the elements for probably millions of years and they’re so sculptural and distinctive.”
The landscape architect went on to say that he worked with an outstanding design committee comprising key donors, Penn State Master Gardeners that included a cancer survivor and members of the hospital fund-raising and facility management staff. “They were involved in every step of the design process, and we made a great team,” he said.
While working with enormous stone pieces might have presented its share of challenges, Kalp said he had previous experience working with stones of this size. “We used some massive boulders, both Homewood and Tuscarora sandstone from Russell Stone Products, for the Children’s Garden at the Arboretum at Penn State. The largest stone on that project weighs 17 tons. They are definitely more challenging because of the heavy lifting equipment needed, as well as highly skilled operators. However it’s very exciting to be part of this process and these large stones make a tremendous impact and a lasting impression.”
According to Kalp, the design and engineering of the water feature, required a great deal of attention. He worked with JPT Architects and the fabricators from Russell Stone Products to ensure the success of the piece. “The plumbing chase and trough to create the falls needed to be integrated into the structure of the stone framework,” he explained. “The two lintel stones were created by cutting a single stone in half, which were then doweled into both sides of the two upright stones with mortise and tenon joinery that’s more typical of fine woodworking than stone masonry.”
Approximately 200 tons was needed for the project. While some of the stone was small in lengths of 4 to 6 feet, the larger stone lengths ranged from 10 to 12 feet with varying widths. “There was a lot of slotting, grooves and unique cuts involved in the water features,” said Dave Curulla of Russell Stone Products. “The lintel stones, as well as the uprights, had to be cut for doweling and mortise joints. We try to specialize in being able to create and fabricate a stone that meets the imagination. The steps and other cuts required were items that we cut on a regular basis. From the time the stone was quarried and the fabrication was completed, it took approximately four weeks.”
Kalp devoted time to visiting the jobsite during the installation. “I usually spend a considerable amount of time on the job for the larger projects like this, especially when working with these amazing boulders that need to find the right home on the site and to be sure they will get along with the others,” he said. “For me, one of my favorite aspects is working with the stone masons and equipment operators. Usually, once they get what you’re trying to achieve and understand the meaning and reasons behind the design, they’re immediately on my side and we’re working together to make the most of it. I rely heavily on their expertise, and when they realize they’re a respected and vital part of the process, their input takes the project to a higher level.
“For this project, the boulders for the water feature were already selected based on size and where they would fit into the overall composition,” Kalp went on to explain. “The contractor, Stickler Construction, required minimal direction from me. However, I worked more closely with them on the staff garden where we paired standing stones with reclining stones. I was much more particular, studying which stones made the best pairs, kind of like a geologic dating service.”
The healing garden at the Mount Nittany Medical Center was completed in roughly three years. Kalp expressed that he almost always integrates natural stone into his design work. “One of my goals as a landscape architect is to incorporate elements of the natural world into people’s outdoor living and work spaces, which is especially relevant for this project where my primary clients are hospital patients, their families and staff who face enormous stressors on a daily basis,” he said. “We all understand the health benefits of being in nature and it’s even more vital for the most vulnerable members of our communities.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he added. “I have gotten feedback from friends who were stuck in a patient room, but who appreciated having views overlooking the garden and the giant leaf patterns. Others shared that they regularly see patients, families and staff using the space either for a stroll or sitting quietly on a bench during their break. A large family who had just gotten bigger told me how their children were able to explore and play in the garden while their mother was recovering. It has been most meaningful to me to know that this garden is meaningful to others who need some relief from stress or an outlet for their grief.”
Mount Nittany Medical Center Healing Garden
State College, PA
Architect: JPT Architects