World-renowned artist, landscape architect design plaza for the BJC Institute of Health at Washington University School of Medicine

A reflecting pool and plaza with native landscaping will welcome visitors to the BJC Institute of Health at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and create an expansive and welcoming green space in the middle of Washington University Medical Center.

World-renowned artist Maya Lin, best known for designing the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., designed the plaza’s landscape and water feature, in partnership with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. of Boston.

Creation of the plaza was made possible by a naming gift from Robert G. and Ellen Clark, longtime donors and friends of Washington University. Clark is chairman and chief executive of St. Louis-based Clayco Construction Co., one of the nation’s largest design-builders. The Ellen S. Clark Hope Plaza is named for Ellen Clark, who passed away March 16, 2010.

“Ellen was a passionate person who campaigned for the 2006 constitutional amendment protecting human embryonic stem cell research in Missouri, and last April, President Barack Obama invited us to the Oval Office after he signed the legislation,” Clark says.

“She was defined also by her fierce motherhood and giving spirit and generously contributing to numerous charitable causes and to her community. She was a steady influence on the family, and on me, by being a mom. She made being a mom as her career a more extraordinary accomplishment than I have made mine as a career builder.”

Bob and Ellen Clark were married for 25 years and had five children and three grandchildren.

Before Ellen’s death, the Clarks worked with Lin and the plaza designers.

“This unique plaza will serve as the front door to a world-class facility where School of Medicine researchers will conduct innovative work to understand the root causes of human disease,” said Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “We are grateful to Bob and Ellen Clark for their generous gift and to Maya Lin for her extraordinary design that will ensure that School of Medicine patients, visitors, faculty, staff and students have an inviting, peaceful social center in the midst of our urban campus.”

The BJC Institute of Health at Washington University School of Medicine is an 11-story research building housing laboratories and support facilities for BioMed 21, Washington University’s research initiative to rapidly translate basic research findings into advances in medical treatment. The $235 million building, supported by a $30 million gift from BJC HealthCare, opened in December 2009.

The 2.2 acre plaza leading to the building’s entrance is designed to bring Missouri’s lush landscape to the urban campus with trees, grasses and plants native to the St. Louis area and to the state chosen in partnership with the Missouri Botanical Garden. Many of the 40,000 plants placed in the plaza will be species found at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Shaw Nature Preserve in far west St. Louis County.

Trees will include 45 Kentucky Coffee trees, 11 American Hornbeam, willows, redbuds and swamp white oak trees, surrounded by a meadow-like soft covering of the ground in summer. The plants were chosen to focus on comfort and pleasure in all four seasons.

It will also contain up to 10 raised islands filled with local, knee-high grasses and other shade- or sun-loving plants. Exposed aggregate concrete and decomposed granite will cover walking surfaces and paths through the plaza.

The focal point of the plaza will be a water feature nearly 80 feet in diameter with a raised platform that provides visitors a vantage point to view the landscape. Fed by a 4,000-gallon reservoir, the year-round pool will be an “infinity pool” with a disappearing edge. The 38-foot diameter platform will include fiber-optic lighting made to look like twinkling stars when lit at night.

Seating will be placed throughout the plaza offering an inviting place of respite that complements the interiors of the hospitals, clinics and research facilities.

The plaza is bound by the existing shuttle depot on Children’s Place on the east, the West Building on the south and overhead walkway between the McDonnell Pediatric Research Building and the Eric P. Newman Education Center.

As part of the project, Euclid Avenue has been permanently closed from Parkview Place to just south of the new building, and Children’s Place will be closed from the turnaround in front of St. Louis Children’s Hospital to the eastern edge of Euclid. The street closure’s reduction in traffic is designed to create more of a campus feel, accommodating to the thousands of pedestrians who travel among the buildings.

The plaza will be accessible from all four directions for emergency vehicles.

With the closure of Euclid Avenue and Children’s Place, the main walk-in entrance to the Eric P. Newman Education Center will remain open and lead onto the new plaza, with a new valet/dropoff entrance on the south side of the building on Children’s Place.

The Missouri Botanical Garden will use the plaza as a learning tool for planting native landscapes in urban areas, said Steve Sobo, program director and director of design and construction at the School of Medicine.

The building will formally open June 16 at an event featuring U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health. Lin will also be in attendance.

As the country’s highest-ranking health official, Sebelius played a key role in the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act and is leading its implementation. During her first year in office, she coordinated the response to the 2009 H1N1 flu virus and coordinated the provision of health and social services during the economic crisis.

Previously, Sebelius was governor of Kansas from 2003-09, and was recognized by Time magazine in 2005 as one of America’s top five governors.

Collins is most noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. Previously, he was director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, which coordinated the Human Genome Project, to which the Washington University Genome Center contributed.

Clark’s Clayco Construction is among the top 25 privately held companies in the St. Louis area with more than $850 million in revenue. Clayco is ranked as one of the top green contractors in the country — overseeing more than 30 building projects nationwide that have received or are seeking LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Among its signature local projects are the Danforth University Center at Washington University, the Washington University Orthopedics and Barnes-Jewish Hospital Outpatient Orthopedic Center in Chesterfield, Mo., and the Cortex 1 Building on Forest Park Avenue. In addition to its St. Louis headquarters, it has offices in Chicago, Dallas and Detroit.

Clark is very involved in the St. Louis community, serving on the National Council for the School of Medicine and on the boards of Central Institute for the Deaf. He spearheaded the merger of Central Institute for the Deaf with Washington University School of Medicine. He credits the University with diagnosing his wife’s genetic disorder after visiting specialists nationwide without success.

“Through that experience, both Ellen and I were tremendously impressed at the medical research and work being done by the University,” Clark says. “We felt very fortunate to have had these resources available to us.”

Lin owns and operates the Maya Lin Studio in New York City. At age 21, Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a class project while an architecture student at Yale University. In 1981, her design was chosen out of a field of more than 1,400 submissions open to all Americans. The V-shaped wall of black granite and etched with the names of 58,000 dead or missing soldiers has since become the most visited memorial in Washington, D.C.

Other works include the Peace Chapel at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, the “Women’s Table” at Yale University, and the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala.

Lin’s work in art and architecture reflects her strong interest in the environment. She designed a sculptural landscape work called Groundswell at The Ohio State University that included a three-level garden of crushed green glass.

She served on the selection jury of the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition. She has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. has more than 20 years of experience designing, building and restoring landscapes for a broad range of public, private and corporate clients. Among the firm’s many completed projects include Harvard University, Princeton University, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Boston Children’s Museum.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.