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Terrarium Landscape Design for Rush University Medical Center Pavilion

Posted on by Alison Strickler

Several weeks ago I posted some images on the theme of inside/outside. The open-air terrarium in the lobby of the newly completed Rush University Medical Center Brennan Entry Pavilion is a good example of the challenges and planning it takes to successfully translate the concept into reality. In the entry, a cone-shaped glass terrarium pierces the ceiling, infusing the lobby with natural light and illuminating a small slice of landscape that is open to the elements from above. The result is a bit of the outside, inside.

Rush University Medical Center Brennan Pavilion Lobby Photo by Steve Hall / Hedrich Blessing


As we worked with Perkins + Will, the architects of the medical center, we conducted studies to evaluate the conditions that would affect plants in the glass enclosure. We not only wanted plants that would thrive, but a landscape design that would provide interest and color in all four seasons:



The light level study conducted by the design team showed that although the skylight allowed for daylight to flood the space below, illumination at the floor level of the terrarium really wouldn’t be very strong. In technical terms, it was only at an intensity of 100-150 foot candles, which isn’t enough daylight for most plant types.

In response, we developed a plant palette based on deep forest environments. In spite of the restricted plant palette, the combination of ferns, mosses, spring bulbs, and deciduous trees mimic a natural environment that changes with the seasons.

Here are a few images of Spring taken by Intrinsic Landscaping, the company maintaining the garden:



We’ll post more photos of other seasons and the green roof above as we get them!

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