At high-energy Harborview, a new island of tranquility

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At high-energy Harborview, a new island of tranquility

Door opens to a meditation space whose design calls on the calming aspects of nature.
Brian Donohue

On her lunch break, Katharine Barrett sought an island of tranquility away from the bustle of Harborview Medical Center’s Pathology Department. A short walk and four flights of stairs later, she found her zone of Zen: the hospital’s new meditation room.

The room had its coming-out party at a Feb. 24 open house, but Barrett has been a regular, she said, since the last piece of art was installed in December.

Brian Donohue
Katharine Barrett, administrative specialist in Harborview's Pathology Department, chats in the meditation room with its designer, Lisa Herriott.
picture of Katharine Barrett talking with Lisa Herriott

“I try to incorporate mindfulness and meditation in my life,” she said. “I’ve spent a little time looking at every piece of art since first discovering this place. The natural colors, the art choices, the flooring, the lighting – it all works so nicely together.”

The fourth-floor refuge is centrally located near the junction of the east and west hospital buildings and the bridge to the Maleng Building. It invites contemplation from patients, their families and friends, and staff.

The planning team had an overarching ambition: to create a space in which any member of Harborview’s culturally diverse community would feel equally welcome. For that reason, the room bears no physical representations of religion, said Sean Doll O'Mahoney, the hospital’s interim director of spiritual care.

It “honors a person’s spirituality, whether that’s religious faith or something else that makes meaning of their life,” he said. “It’s an interfaith room. Anyone who wants a bible or prayer rug or piece of Scripture or visit from clergy, we’re happy to provide that.”

Meditation room sign
Brian Donohue
The fourth-floor space sits near the junction of the east and west hospitals and the bridge to the Maleng Building.
picture of meditation room sign

There actually are two areas, one room within another. The primary space is about 11-by-21 feet. A smaller area, about 9-by-12 feet, accommodates one person or a small group that wants privacy to pray or reflect together, said the lead designer, Lisa Herriott.

She has 20 years’ experience shaping hospital interiors. This room, she said, needed to be “warm and organic.” So the team looked to nature for cues.

A resilient cork floor pads visitors’ steps, and two sets of stained-glass windows beckon daylight from the room’s south and north. The wall running between the two windows is ribbed with birch slats whose intermittent undulations evoke motion. A thick ring of salvaged old-growth cedar, reborn as a table, is a center of gravity amid a group of chairs whose casters allow visitors to sit where they like.

The gray-green palette is “restful, reflecting the muted light of the Northwest,” Herriott said. “It’s important for the light to be soothing,” she said, nodding at two metal globes above the cedar table. Lateral rings in the globes throw golden bands and gentle shadows on the room.

The artworks chosen for the space “are intended to ease the burdens and anxieties commonly experienced outside the room,” said Peggy Weiss, manager of Harborview’s art collection, who worked with Herriott to choose pieces that connect to the room’s sacred role.

Meditation-smaller room
Brian Donohue
The smaller space inside the meditation room includes the painting "Maze for Me" by John Franklin Koenig. It was gifted to Harborview by John C. and Claire Koenig.
picture of small meditation space at Harborview

One ceramic sculpture, “Spirit House,” is a guardian of sorts, perched on a credenza by the door. Visitors are invited to share what is on their hearts – pencils and scraps of paper are set out – and leave the notes inside the sculpture.

Every week, Doll O'Mahoney and his team collect the notes and gather privately as a group to read aloud the visitors’ prayers, hopes and concerns.

“Actually that’s been the best part of my weeks since the room opened,” he said. “Hearing what people are feeling, and honoring that, helps us extend spiritual care in a meaningful way.”

The room’s formal address is 4WH74. It is unlocked from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., mirroring the hospital’s public-access hours. Outside of those hours, patients or family members can ask a nurse or spiritual care for access, and badge reader enables staff to get in 24/7.

Collaborators of the space also included Christine Kiefer, director of Planning; Cindy Thelen, operations manager for Spiritual Care; Tracy Gooding, director of Patient Relations; and Lucia Baratta, senior director for Health System Philanthropy at UW Medicine Advancement.