• USGBC National Capital Region Innovative Project of the Year - Responsible Design
  • ENR MidAtlantic Award of Merit, Healthcare
  • SEAMW Award of Excellence, Structural Renovations Under $15M

Project Brief

As a general contractor in the nation’s capital, we’ve had the opportunity to construct some of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the region. But some of our best projects aren’t for profit, such as this one at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC). Here, pediatric patients are able to safely escape the confines of their hospital rooms to experience the outdoors – while avoiding medical complications.

The idea for the Healing Garden came from a little girl, a former patient at CNMC whose dying wish was to go outside. At the time, the hospital lacked a safe outdoor space – a space that could be accessed by very ill children receiving intravenous fluids or other treatments that could not be interrupted. The hospital staff became committed to building such a space. And with the help of generous donors – including CoStar Group and the Bunny Mellon estate – our DAVIS team was brought on board to bring the vision to life. In addition to donating preconstruction, project management, and executive leadership services, we also waived our construction fee to build the garden.

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The construction is complete but the project is only just beginning. Now these patients and their families have a safe place for respite and rejuvenation.

Tom Hern, CHC, Senior Superintendent, Davis

A Sensitive Structural Upgrade

From a construction standpoint, the most challenging aspect of the project was the structural upgrade. The roof was unable to support the weight of the garden without significant reinforcement and was located directly above one of the most sensitive spaces in the hospital: the 24/7 in-house laboratory. As the lab houses extremely sensitive contents there had to be zero risk of construction dust, debris, odor, or vibration entering the space.

Through meticulous planning and the utmost precautions, we were able to safely conduct our work on the other side of the lab’s ceiling without anyone knowing we were there. To do this, we installed a variety of equipment on the roof, ranging from temporary exhaust fans, to carbon filters, and welding smoke evacuation systems. This drew out smoke and contaminated air, enabling us to maintain negative air pressure and prevent any odor or debris from entering the hospital. Additionally, the sound of our steelwork was completely muffled, thus the lab workers were unaffected by our construction. 

Prioritizing Patient Safety

Clinical considerations were at the core of every design and construction decision. For example, traditional rooftop gardens incorporate a stone paver system. However, this garden needed to accommodate wheelchairs, IV equipment, and patient beds – all of which have wheels and require a smooth, even surface. With a custom blend of Flexi Pave, the surface is strong and balanced for easy wheeling. It’s also porous, allowing water to drain through the garden and onto the waterproofed rooftop that protects the laboratory below.

The healing garden overlooks the Capitol dome and Washington Monument – a spectacular view that we did not want to impede. Thus, we surrounded the entire perimeter of the garden with a 7’ structural glass wall. CNMC’s infection control supervisor carefully reviewed all of the garden’s plantings to ensure that none of the flowers, bushes, or trees would threaten a patient’s immune system. 

The First Visitors

Now that the garden is open, it has attracted some pretty well-known visitors, including Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump. In fact, the garden is actually dedicated to the First Ladies of the United States because of their longstanding support for the nation’s children. And though we’re proud to know that several First Ladies have already visited the garden, our proudest moment was seeing the smile on a young patient’s face when he saw the garden for the first time.

Photos by Sam Kittner