The water wall at Evanston Hospital fills the health facility entrance with sight, sound and the tangible touch of moisture. It creates a healing ambiance and a focal point for people using the building.
Designed and detailed by Chicago-based Eckenhoff Saunders Architects, the 1,800-square-foot water wall is three stories high with “water cascading in waves over a rough textured blue green slate, the color of which mimics nearby Lake Michigan’s water. The waves then disappear behind a border of shaped stone which is, in essence, a replica of the coastline of Evanston,” says Walt Eckenhoff, the design principal for the hospital project.
The stone and brick design serves a utilitarian purpose as well. When the remodel of Evanston Hospital began in 1999, a multi-story lobby was conceived to function as the crossroads of the hospital. People enter the space from several levels of the parking garage, the main entrance and from floors of the hospital itself. Yet the west wall of the lobby was unable to be windowed. Why? Because behind it is the hospital’s main surgical and intensive care unit. A massive airshaft is needed along the wall to provide filtered, purified air to those areas of intense healing.
Water provides the perfect solution. By activating the wall with water, and having the design suggest the natural shoreline less than a mile away, the mechanics of the hospital are masked by an aesthetic enhancement. It also provides a soothing sound, reflects light, and anchors the hospital as a location where healing and hope are nourished.
“The challenge of being an architect is creating a balance between the pragmatic and artistic. The goal is to create a building that is highly functional while also providing a unique sense of place that enhances the lives of everybody who works or visits it,” continues Eckenhoff.
The water wall achieves this goal, in part, because it is not created as an artwork separate from the space it exists in. The relationship between the structure and the artwork is fluid. The water over the stone masks the airshafts and in turn the lobby is designed to enhance the water. It is the reason the skylights were added and additional lighting was installed.
Projects like the water wall are only possible when the institutions funding them are willing to make the financial commitment. In the case of the water wall, this means not only the cost of building the structure but the expense of servicing two water systems. The water that flows along the wall and the pool below are separate. Each requires regular cleanings as well as electrical and filtration upkeep to function. The aesthetic qualities come at a price, but the cost is rewarded as large-scale artistic enhancements elevate the expectations and reputation of the institution.
As the integration between art and life continues to meld, people have come to expect, promote and support participatory artwork. Constructions that can be heard, touched and admired have grown in popularity. They allow everyone, regardless of age or education, to experience art. A stunning museum sculpture serves a cerebral purpose; it can take viewers into themselves to question how they see. A creation like the water wall fulfills an external purpose. The splendor of the wall allows a viewer to enjoy where they are standing: in a place of healing, along the Lake Michigan coastline, surrounded by cascading shimmering light.