Reeling back, I am reminded of the nostalgic anecdotes I heard of my grandfather’s undeterred disapproval of being taken to hospitals. I recall how he requested (read: demanded) to be treated in his house, even if it entailed bringing the entire hospital home. Revisiting those episodes, I am forced to contemplate how a typical hospital milieu is often devoid of vivacity. If asked to envisage a hospital, an image of pale walls with immaculate halls—plausibly colourless—that somehow manage to diminish one’s spirits, will cross most minds. Given the efficacy of colours in influencing the aura of a space as well as human psychology, their utter and unchecked absence from a space that perhaps needs it the most, comes off as paradoxical. Begging the question: Is it time to step back and reconsider what a place of healing should look like?
The pavilion in Sheffield Children’s Hospital, enrobed in colours, will perhaps make you squint at first glance, and then make you wonder if it is photoshopped against the relatively muted facade of the hospital building. The dazzling setting conceived by British artist Morag Myerscough greets you in the courtyard of the hospital, digressing from the monotonous medical environment—a much needed reprieve for patients and staff, alike.
Myerscough’s first project at the hospital, based in South Yorkshire in England, saw four designs across 46 en-suite bedrooms, sowing the seeds of her close connection and commitment to the hospital and its people, fuelling her most personal project to date, befittingly titled the Joy Garden. “This project means absolutely everything to me. I saw the empty space with Cat Powell of Artfelt back in 2017, and it was clear that it could be transformed into a beautiful, functional garden that would be of huge benefit to everyone,” shares Myerscough.
People acquainted with Myerscough’s oeuvre are no strangers to her unmistakable visual approach, that transforms every context it infiltrates. Colours, patterns, and words become instruments of joy and belongingness, redefining urban spaces and people’s perception of them. With a carefree splash of blinding hues, accompanied by a thoughtful restrain of geometry, the artist weaves responses specific to the audience that will experience them. What ensues is a reflection of user identity, drawing on shared cultural history and heritage of the local area.
The Joy Garden is yet another example of the artist’s propensity for working with community groups, not as a service provider but as a collaborator, cultivating relationships that inform the project’s character. “It’s a privilege to work with Morag, who so completely understands the difference art can bring to healthcare environments and has a fabulous talent for making spaces which enrich people’s lives,” shares Cat Powell, former head of the children’s hospital charity’s arts programme, Artfelt.
The process of realisation was set in motion with Myerscough’s visit to the site, with Powell, during which they both understood the value in the underused outdoor courtyard space, and the difference it could entail for children, families, and staff. Being entirely detached from outdoor spaces and social interaction, over the last couple of years, of pandemic-inflicted limbo, the significance of the same does not need to be spelled out. “I know how much outside space makes a difference to mood when you are confined to one space. Some of the children and families stay in the hospital for extended periods of time and need to get outside and feel the sun on their faces,” explains Myerscough.
The difficulty in securing funding for hospital projects was an intelligible challenge; the artist personally approached Method—creators of future friendly cleaning and personal care products—who she had been working with on a limited edition product design range. “I took no fee for my design, and therefore with Method’s support, we were able to fund this important space at no upfront cost to the hospital,” the artist shares.
The flexible design for children or ‘secret garden’ that houses play, performance, workshops or serene solitude, and conjures in the hospital framework, was constructed as an extension in 2017 for which Myerscough crafted the colourful interiors. The outdoor space of the hospital initially featured colourful seating and planters, its visual identity not achieving its maximum potential, owing to a lack of funding. The courtyard design now encompasses extensive planting, geometric flooring patterns, moveable furniture design and a shelter named the Joy Pavilion—all in Myerscough’s distinctive bright hues.
The garden’s geometric colour-infused floor patterns were originally designed for another public art initiative in London, which when cancelled, enabled the contemporary artist to repurpose them for use within the hospital garden. The central pavilion allows for a seamless accommodation of workshops and performances, without its size being too domineering for the garden.
The structure—including its shingled roof—majorly features wood that exudes warmth, barring the metallic flag poles and legs for the seating. The artist ensured that local craftspeople were an intrinsic part of finalising the build, working with Sheffield fabricator Design Workshop Ltd. for the primary structure of the Joy Garden, while the panels were painted by Myerscough in her studio using YesColours, who gifted the paint for the project.
Interactive sessions such as Fragrance and colour workshop sessions‘ were held at the hospital with families, staff, and a fragrance expert from Method—reinforcing the space’s position as one of play and joy. “Although aesthetics are secondary to treatment in hospitals, it’s obvious that they bring much needed value and support to the human experience. Hopefully this garden will bring some joy when patients, families and staff need it most,” the artist states.
Without having to only rely on charity, the Joy Garden symbolises hope, and a certain kind of activism rooted in community, where artists and brands worked together to catalyse change in the public realm. The project that Myerscough and Powell envisaged years ago, came to life through a hospital design—from an enticing entrance, to unique bedrooms, and now a special outdoor space that entwines everyone together.
The Joy Garden, akin to the divergent oeuvre of Myerscough’s immersive installations and spatial artworks, frees itself from the shackles of conventions, this time, reinterpreting healthcare architecture as an expanse brimming with hope and animated spirits. By putting user needs, both physiological and psychological, on the helm of her creative process, the artist contrives a vibrant oasis, one that does not daunt the ailing, rather, invites them to heal, not in agony but in sheer joy.