Collaborative and Compassionate Design – Guest post & book review by Lisa Horne of Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces
In Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces, Daniel Winterbottom and Amy Wagenfeld expand the conversation on therapeutic gardens and broaden the definition to many places beyond medical facilities and hospitals. This leads to the appropriate question of whether all gardens are therapeutic, which is answered generally with this quote from Robert Rodale: “Gardens are where people and the land come together in the most inspiring way.”1 This book, which recently won the 2016 Place Book Award from the Environmental Design Research Association, recognizes its place in a growing body of literature and adds value to the discussion in its interdisciplinary nature and its challenge to the concept that therapeutic gardens are limited to certain places. As an occupational therapist, Amy Wagenfeld infuses the text with an empathy and warmth not often found in design books.
The book can be divided into three sections of overview, therapeutic garden typologies, and maintenance. The first two chapters give a general overview. “Foundations” looks at history, theory, research, and applications from the perspective of an occupational therapist. “Collaborative Design” discusses the design process with a case study of a courtyard designed for Japanese Americans at a senior care facility and identifies various design elements for therapeutic gardens. The typology chapters each have a broad topic such as movement, solace, or learning and examine specific kinds of gardens within that topic such as gardens for children with cancer or children with obesity. Each kind is described fully and followed with a brief section of specific design considerations. Each typological chapter has at least one “Closer Look” section, a case study that illustrates one of the kinds of gardens. Most case studies have plans.
Two prevailing and interrelated ideas of collaborative design and compassionate design weave through the book. Collaborative design is not a new concept. It is often acknowledged, but less frequently practiced in the profession. Collaboration can take a back seat for fear that engaging users could redirect the project inappropriately. Where this particular book adds value is its fearless and detailed narrative of what collaboration actually looks like. It implies that landscape architects can creatively design ways to overcome barriers such as language, culture, and socioeconomic status to include more challenged groups. One specific example was a project in Guatemala City in which there was a language barrier. The participants tagged images in books or created collages and models in clay. The compassionate argument is also imbued through the text. There is an emphasis on universal design principles and sensitivity to the nuances of impairment, disability, and handicap. It is not just semantics, but rather is intended to place the person at the center of the design. The closing paragraph of the “Afterword” emphasizes this concept by stating that great design is both responsive and compassionate.
Perhaps the most distinctive element of the book is its warmth of tone. There is elegance to the text. The introductory chapters carry the reader through complex intellectual territory complete with references to phenomenology and the more nuanced explanations of definitions with finesse. The photographs are up to date, high quality, and a visual delight. As a picture book for ideas, it delivers. The plan diagrams lucidly communicate the central point with no additional embellishment. More technical readers may miss footnotes or endnotes to follow up on some of the more provocative points in the text although there is a complete list of references at the end of the book.
Although the intended audience is not explicitly stated, we have several clues from the text. Landscape architects are mentioned in the final paragraph of the “Afterword.” The second chapter gives an overview of the design process, which would have merit for students of landscape architecture. The book will be on my list of go-to books for visual inspiration, but it is not as deeply technical as some other related books. For example, Therapeutic Landscapes by Clare Cooper Marcus and Naomi Sachs goes into the more technical aspects of meeting the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements for therapeutic gardens in medical settings, which are not mentioned here.
This book is a rare piece of interdisciplinary collaboration between a landscape architect and occupational therapist and functions as both a source of inspiration for students and practicing landscape architects and a manifesto for compassionate, user-centered design. It adds a valuable voice to an ongoing conversation in our profession.
1 Winterbottom, Daniel, and Amy Wagenfeld. Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2015.
Note: Timber Press provided a review copy for the writing this book review.
Lisa Horne, ASLA, is a project director at RVi in Dallas, Texas, and past co-chair of the ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environment Professional Practice Network. She may be reached at lhorne (at) rviplanning.com. Many thanks, Lisa, for another terrific book review!