Q&A with Kat Shiffler, (MLA '21): Therapeutic Garden Design in Chile

Originally published: 
April, 2020

The Jacarandá Garden at San Borja Arriarán, a public hospital in Santiago. / image: Kat Shiffler

I was drawn to landscape architecture out of a specific desire to create healthcare environments that help people heal. As I finish my second year of graduate school at the University of Michigan, I find myself working from an improvised home office instead of the design studio. My desk looks out upon a modest park, where I see record numbers of people walking, running, and sitting—absorbing the benefits of urban greenspace in these anxious times. Today, the universal importance of therapeutic design is thrown into high relief as the whole world is transformed into one big waiting room.

In December, I traveled to Chile to check out some inspirational healthcare gardens and meet with the landscape architecture firm Fundación Cosmos. I interviewed the firm’s principals on their work, philosophy, and the state of the landscape architecture profession in Chile, and am sharing the conversation, with my translation into English, here on The Field.

What inspires you to do this work?

We are inspired to live in harmony with the environment, conscious of our interdependence with all living beings and our responsibility for the protection of ecological integrity which sustains life on earth. This is our vision as a foundation.

Towards this end, we develop open and accessible community parks that facilitate the connection and valorization of the environment; parks where, furthermore, people can enjoy the benefits of what the environment gives us. One of those benefits is nature’s power to heal—mentally and physically—something that more and more scientific studies confirm.

Confronted with this evidence, isn’t it logical to think that people with physical or psychological illnesses who come to spend part of their lives in hospitals or other healthcare environments should be permanently exposed to colors, sounds, forms, and smells of nature in order to help them heal? The answer to this question led us to explore and study healing gardens, and to develop projects along these lines.