October 1, 2015
John C O’Rear, RID, IIDA, EDAC

Several years ago, we designed an addition to Seattle Children’s Hospital that consisted of a clinic building, which was attached to the main building by a 3-story atrium space.  The main way that people entered the building was from the garage through to the second level.

The client wanted to see some design concept options based on the unique qualities of the Northwest Region of the United States.  I was fortunate enough to be brought in on the team as the designer to come up with those options.  After researching the culture and the terrestrial and aquatic environments, I drew up six large-scale perspective sketches conveying three concepts as they might be incorporated into the atrium space.  The client liked them all, but focused on the aquatic-centered concept.  One of the dominate features was an orca whale and her calf swimming in the atrium space facing the level 2 main entry.  The idea was that local Native artists would create an interpretation of the whales, based on their traditional art, culture and spirituality, greeting the people entering the building.

The building was built, and from what I understand, was very well received by the community, the patients, their families and the medical staff.  I’m not sure if we received any design awards or not, but it was on the cover of Healthcare Design Magazine, along with an article written about it.

Now here is where the story diverges from being a common story to being a great HKS story.  Years later, my wife Shelly, a first grade teacher, had a new student check into her school in the middle of the year.  While speaking to the child’s parents, she learned that they were from Seattle.  During their conversation, Shelly told them that her husband helped design part of the Seattle Children’s Hospital.  They asked which part, and Shelly told them that it was the part with the whale in the atrium.  The parent was silent for a moment, and then, with great emotion, told Shelly that one of their relatives had an autistic child that was about eight years old that had never spoken a word.  The father of the autistic child was bringing him to see specialists at Seattle Children’s Hospital.  They parked in the garage and entered the building on the second level.  Upon entering the building, the little boy, who had never spoken a word, looked at the orca and her calf that was there to greet them and uttered the word, …whale. The father was brought to tears over the miracle that he had witnessed.

Shelly came home that night and told me the story.  It choked me up.  I was humbled to find out that something I had a part in creating made a real difference in people’s lives.  I believe that there are many untold stories of miracles that are inspired by the wonderful people here at HKS and the work that we do.  We do much more than just design buildings.  We help make people’s lives better, and I am very proud to be a part of that.

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