Carnelian granite boulders in their natural state created an inviting new entrance for Brookings Hospital, which was influenced by the glacial movement across the Great Plains thousands of years ago.
A growing patient base drove officials to put an expansion plan in place for Brookings Hospital in Brookings, SD. The project consisted of a hospital addition and a new two-story medical office building. Among the objectives was to design an appealing entrance to make visitors feel welcome. From a site perspective this was achieved with a series of entry gardens featuring large outcropping boulders of local Carnelian granite – arranged it a way to mimic glacial movement, creating a striking landscape design.
“Brookings Hospital, like most rural city-owned hospitals built during the 1960s, was primarily intended to provide inpatient care,” explained Emanouil Spassov, ASLA, PLA, SITES AP, LEED AP BD+C, a landscape architect at HGA in Minneapolis, MN. “As healthcare trends have shifted over the years to service outpatients, Brookings Health System faced the need to expand and renovate its facility in order to respond to Brookings growing community needs. The overall project goal of HGA design team, with lead design architect Dan Polachek, AIA, RA, CID, was to create a modern facility that promotes and reflects the high-quality, compassionate and personalized care Brookings Hospital team delivers to the local community.”
From a landscape architecture perspective, the intention was to conceive a warm and welcoming first impression and enhance the patient experience through thoughtful design, which provides seamless transition between indoor and outdoor space, according to Spassov. “The project site was very challenging — offering very limited landscape opportunities,” he said. “A combination of substantial grade change, narrow street frontage and demanding program requirements, challenged the design team to find a creative and functional entry solution.”
Reflecting the land
The Great Plains cover most of South Dakota, featuring a landscape largely sculpted by glacial movement processes that is also rich with large deposits of Carnelian granite quarried in Milbank, SD — approximately 70 miles from Brookings, explained Spassov. “I love using stone in my work as much as possible, so having the chance of using locally quarried Carnelian granite was a great opportunity to find a visually engaging and cost-effective design solution to turn the challenging entry with limited usable area into a functional and memorable entry space,” said the landscape architect. “The vernacular material selection provided a sense of warmth and welcome to patients and the rest of the community.”
Spassov and the design team turned to Coldspring, a large stone producer based in Cold Spring, MN, to provide the necessary Carnelian granite boulders for the hospital’s outdoor landscape design. “The stone arrangements were used at the main entry, the drop off island and the atrium garden space of the hospital,” said Spassov. “The notion of the moving glaciers cutting into the underlying bedrock making long parallel grooves — glacial striations — provided a palpable metaphor to organize the campus’ main entry. The design intent was to use a variation of Carnelian granite blocks, ranging in shape and texture, as an organizing feature that connects seamlessly the drop-off area, the limited entry gardens and the hospital lobby.
“The abstracted stone composition in the drop-off island and along the building’s facade features minimal detailing, using blocks treated only by splitting and occasional saw cutting,” Spassov went on to say. “These were stone blocks that we intentionally left rough with their split markings on their sides. The majority of these were intended as slender linear pieces to reinforce the notion of movement.”
For the stone blocks that were used in the lobby garden space, Spassov searched for more weathered type of boulders from the same quarry. “I was lucky to find several pieces like this,” he said. “I was told that these were leftover blocks, which were several decades old — featuring a nice weathered texture. Thus, I was able to use the same type of stone, Carnelian, as a connecting element starting with rougher and more rustic pieces outside, which re-emerged again inside, transformed into weathered stone seats — each combined with a solid walnut L-shaped wood slab. To reinforce the visual connection, another weathered linear piece was used outside, across from one of the benches. The three interior benches are set within a low planter area, creating a minimalistic and reflective garden space and establishing connection with the austere outside garden.”
Working with the quarry
Spassov said that he visited the quarry twice. “The goal of the first trip was to see what was available and make an initial selection,” he said. “We walked around trying to find some outcropping leftover pieces that could fit the design intent. The budget was an issue, as well as the capability of that particular quarry/facility. They mainly quarry the stone there and then ship it to the Minnesota main facility to do some fine detailing. Understanding all this was very helpful in the selection process. To keep cost down, all the work was done in the Milbank facility and we agreed that they would split most of the stone and do two minor cuts on site. The blocks that were cut were intended to have a light in between them when installed. The blocks that we selected the first time were later moved close to their main building and then I went again to figure out in what way the final splitting/cutting would be done.”
Spassov explained that there were several different pieces divided in two different groups. “The majority of the pieces, as mentioned earlier, were intended to be slender elongated ones, which were either split or cut from larger blocks,” he said. “These ranged roughly between 5 to 8 feet long, 18 to 24 inches wide and 12 to 33 inches tall. The height varied since many of them were tapered to one side. The idea was also to create the illusion of a gradually sloping mountain with each of the pieces.
“The other group of weathered pieces – three inside bench ones and one outside — were smaller, roughly 3 feet in each direction, although intentionally irregular shaped with saw cut top and bottom to form a base for an 18-inch-tall bench,” Spassov went on to say. “The piece outside was more elongated and narrow — about 4 to 5 feet x 24 feet x 24 inches — to visually connect with the rest of the outside stone pieces.”
The favorable characteristics of stone
When possible, Spassov likes to incorporate natural stone in his designs. “Using stone in landscape architecture, especially a locally quarried one, is always a great opportunity to connect the project to the natural history of the land,” he said. “So in that regard, sustainability is a very important consideration.
“I always start any new design by trying to find what makes a place special,” the landscape architect went on to say. “Some of the main factors that influence me when beginning a design process are the surroundings, the climate, the people and the history of the place. My design approach with a new landscape is to try to create memorable places that provoke and challenge one’s perception, as well as to provide that newly built environment with a sound and sensitive site design that allows it to age well and not only coalesce with its surroundings, but enhance them. Considering all of this, Carnelian granite was a perfect material to use in this particular project.”
The expansion of Brookings Hospital was completed in about two and a half years. “I enjoyed the whole process, which to me is all about discovery and unveiling an idea,” said Spassov. “As Michelangelo, perhaps history’s greatest sculptor, said, ‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.’ In a similar fashion, all designers pursue an idea — starting from a simple sketch through discovering the appropriate material and ways to manifest it, until final installation and completion. To me, all these phases were very meaningful and rewarding — from designing, searching for means of expression, to installation and even photographing it at the end.”
Client: Brookings Health System, Brookings, SD
General Contractor: Kraus Anderson, Minneapolis, MN
Landscape Contractor: Kerry’s Landscaping & Irrigation, Brookings, SD
Landscape Architect: HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis, MN
Architect: HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis, MN
Stone Supplier: Coldspring, Cold Spring, MN (Carnelian® granite)