Serenity Roof Top Garden

At the University of Pennsylvania Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, patients and families needed a place to breathe and reflect. When dealing with difficult diagnoses in the busy hospital environment, there was nowhere people could spend time in contemplation or escape for some fresh air in a place of tranquility. The philanthropic group, A Date With A Plate, supporting the family of a patient, approached Penn Hospital with the idea of creating such a space. SED Design was then engaged to help create it.


"… the Serenity Garden is a place to find reprieve

from the effects of treatment that can extend beyond physical health…"

Dr. Lynn Schuchter


When Penn and the Abramson Cancer Center Pavilion Project architects, Raphael Vinolly, determined that a north facing, 5th floor rooftop could accommodate this need, we began working with them and the Date With A Plate team to realize the vision. We set out to create a unique space that would transport the visitor away from the hospital setting for at least a moment. A place where serene colors, complimentary plantings, special features and comfortable seating would allow respite: The Serenity Garden.

Given that the garden would be viewed from upper floors, from an adjacent part of the hospital and from the hallways leading to it, the design needed to be engaging from any angle. This north facing location also needed color to enliven shadow and allow spirits to be uplifted. Keeping to a theme of greens and blues, planters, urns and glass cullet are the color framework for the garden. In addition, weight was an important consideration in this rooftop garden. Wet and dry soil depths, plant palettes, and hardscape elements needed to be kept within strict limits.

The space lent itself to the creation of inner and outer gardens, with color and light helping to define distinct spaces. The outer garden is wider and more open, leaving the shadier, private space for a more tranquil inner garden. In the outer garden, circulation elements allow the visitor to wander along paths to slowly relax into the setting. A rich palette of plants including shrubs and tall perennials is supported in a large raised planter with deeper soils. The plant palette here emphasizes greens and blues, but also incorporates warm peaches and yellows. The outer garden connects with the inner garden visually through the use of paving, planters and benches and by movement through a special gateway along a perennial-edged path.

Along the path and through the gateway , the inner space employs principles of the four square garden to provide a clear sense of organization. Here, the blues and greens of the simple plant palette echo the blues and greens of the glass cullet, planters and urns. Large planters for trees anchor the corners and also help to create niches for seating. In the center of this inner space, an organic sphere softly glows in a bed of glass cullet, inviting contemplation. Along one wall, a living green screen with arbor-covered seating immerses the visitor in the garden space while minimizing a machine room. The warm teak of this construction repeats the wood of the gateway and relates to the interior wood in the building’s hallways, visible from and leading to the garden.

The views of this small garden from all angles are just as important as the experience inside the garden. Sometimes, visitors will walk into it and enjoy the garden firsthand. Other times, they will simply view it as they walk by or look out a window. Either way, this garden is designed to allow a moment of serenity.

Landscape Architects: SED Design

Architects: Rafael Vinoly Architects