exterior of glass clad building with plantings

A Behavioral Health Hospital Takes Cues from Nature

CannonDesign incorporated the ideas of 19th century reformer Moses Sheppard to design a new psychiatric hospital.

Sheppard Pratt’s new Baltimore/Washington Behavioral Health Hospital by CannonDesign opened in 2021, but the ideas for the project had been germinating for more than 150 years. Established by Moses Sheppard in 1853, the hospital system has a Quaker mission that reflects the founder’s belief in compassionate care for people with mental illnesses. 

“Mr. Sheppard professed a number of things that were revolutionary at the time,” says architect Tim Rommel, principal and behavioral health practice leader at CannonDesign. “The hospital has been in the works for over 150 years because many of the things we did [here] go directly back to Moses Sheppard.” 

For example, Sheppard believed that daylight can positively affect physical and mental health. He also believed in the healing power of nature. These beliefs were groundbreaking in the mid-1800s, but today they’re the basis of Cannon’s best practices in health-care design. 

interior of building with large windows looking out to greenery
Designed by CannonDesign, Sheppard Pratt’s Baltimore/Washington Behavioral Health Hospital in Elkridge, Maryland, bolsters a sense of community through thoughtful interiors and access to nature.

Nature plays an important role in the Elkridge, Maryland, facility. Because the site had existing hills, hollows, and wetlands, the architects created a lush walking campus where patients can interact with flora and landforms. “I think this is one of the great things that CannonDesign brought to the conversation from the outset,” says Dr. Harsh K. Trivedi, president and CEO of Sheppard Pratt. 

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CannonDesign designed the rooms with large windows that bring in abundant light and give patients visual access to the lush landscape on the 50-acre campus. Additionally, interior courtyards and exterior pathways offer opportunities for patients to connect with the outdoors. 

lobby interior with large glass windows
“The large amount of windows reinforce the idea of inside/outside and nature views,” architect Tim Rommel says. The sprawling, 156,000-square-foot facility features large expanses of windows, including in a warm, wood-clad lobby designed to evoke the strength of a cluster of trees.

One of the goals for the 85-bed facility was to be different from the typical mental health institution, Trivedi says. “We wanted to make it feel like a welcoming, inviting place,” he explains. “We wanted to dispel every misconception of what a psychiatric hospital is. So, as you walk into the entry it feels like you are walking into the warm, welcoming lobby of a five-star hotel.” 

Wood battens give the lobby a calming feel, but also “conjure the image of a cluster of trees standing strong together, similar to patients’ reliance on community support during their time in the building,” according to the firm’s project summary. Ceiling elements imitate tree canopies, providing a feeling of protection in larger, open spaces. 

circular artworks line a hallway
The interiors of the hospital were designed with different color schemes that represent different areas in Maryland. Equipped with 85 beds, the hospital includes an adolescent unit for patients ages 12 through 17 as well as adult inpatient units. The architects drew inspiration from Maryland’s forests to evoke a sense of calm and community. Patients will find interior courtyards and exterior pathways that connect to nearby hills, hollows, creeks, and wetlands.

To pay homage to the hospital’s 1880s campus in Towson, Maryland, the architects selected a mix of historical and modern materials such as rough-cut natural stone, red bricks, and a glass curtain wall system. The team organized the hospital into three zones: one section for education and connection with the community, an outpatient zone for patients and families, and a zone exclusively for patients. “This is the most restrictive zone, but it’s separated from other parts of the hospital by internal courtyards so patients can go outside and enjoy a little more freedom,” Rommel says. 

Offering a variety of services, Sheppard Pratt is a sprawling health-care network with numerous locations around the Baltimore/Washington area. The system is always expanding, so Cannon designed the 156,000-square-foot facility for future expansion in a way that will not disrupt the existing operations. 

“In this case, we used a horizontal expansion strategy,” Rommel explains. “The site is set up for utility runs and so on, so that when the facility does need to [grow] nothing has to be moved or replaced.” Additionally, the infrastructure, chiller plant, and boiler plant are already sized to handle future growth. 

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