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A Labor of Love: Designing for the Spirit of Women

Although he has 30 years experience in landscape architecture, planning and urban design, Rick Espe ASLA, LEED, AP is quick to credit the team behind the new Spirit of Women Park. “Everybody involved had a sense of pride and ownership,” from those who poured the concrete, to the masons and his colleagues at MKSK, a landscape architecture and planning firm with offices in Columbus and throughout the Midwest. But Rick also has a deep personal connection:  “My wife Morgen was a cancer patient at the Medical Center, so I have been coming here for the past nine years.”  She lost her battle with ovarian cancer in February 2012.

Every aspect of the Park was meticulously thought out. “Because it was impossible to remove the hand-painted tiles without destroying them, each was photographed with a high-resolution digital camera and hand-traced” onto glass, continues Rick, who has overseen the management of several complex educational and medical campus projects. Although the tiles are now in shades of black, white and gray, they show crisp and clear through the shimmering water, even at night, when the crescent-shaped granite Donor Fountain, the park’s centerpiece, lights up.

“Our goal was to make the park a place of respite for  patients, visitors and staff at the Medical Center,” explains Rick. The design includes sustainable features such as bioretention cells to capture and  purify rainfall off the walkways and streets and LED fountain lighting for low energy consumption.  The use of earth mounds  help block out noise and create a sense of enclosure to the park. Stand on the carpetlike bluestone paving in front of the Donor Fountain and experience the soothing sound of running water, but walk behind it and all is silent.

Peaceful, grassy areas and other spots where wildflowers bloom in season or lie dormant provide even more variety. Even many of the original trees were dug, stored for the duration of the construction and then replanted. “The idea was to have several natural environments in one space” so visitors could relax at the specially-designed handicapped-accessible tables, work on their computers in a quiet spot with access to Wi Fi or merely reflect in front of the fountain or the glass-paneled, granite monument honoring park namesake Chlois G. Ingram.

In fact, water, specifically the ecology of the Olentangy River was an underlying theme of the design. “The river is an important piece of the University and Medical Center landscape, so we looked at incorporating all forms of water and natural movement,” he continues. The result is a varied but integrated setting and green space that sets a precedent for innovative design.

But perhaps more importantly, the relocated Spirit of Women Park has great meaning to all who pass through the Medical Center -- past, present and future. “The Medical Center and the great work of its doctors, nurses and staff, gave my wife and I nine years that we  otherwise wouldn’t have had,” observes Rick. Along with being a place of refuge and healing, “it is a living, vital tribute to her determination and spirit and the strength of so many other special women in all our lives.”