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A plaza of hope, a place for quiet at BJC

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune -- without the words,

And never stops at all ...

Emily Dickinson's words stretch around a platform overlooking an infinity pool that sits among buildings at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

The Ellen S. Clark Hope Plaza is a place of peace and quiet and a tribute to Ellen Clark, who passed away in March of this year. It can be found at the entrance to the BJC Institute of Health, which is part of the Washington University School of Medicine. The plaza covers a little more than two acres, with 100 large trees, 40,000 plantings, the fountain, the platform and fiber optic lights.

The space that Steve Sobo, director of design and construction at the School of Medicine, calls a deep woods experience, was previously an urban jungle. Originally, Sobo says, the area was designed to be somewhat generic with a much smaller budget.

Then, Bob Clark, chairman and chief executive of Clayco Construction Co., stepped in as a donor.

"Bob wanted to do something special for his wife," Sobo says.

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm...

That elevated the project from what Sobo calls a nice little fountain to what it is today.

"It's really changed the entire campus," he says.

With Clark's help, renowned architect Maya Lin designed the plaza's water feature and landscape. Lin, best known for designing the Vietnam Memorial, was laid back and easy to work with, say both Sobo and John Marcallini, a member of the design construction group.

Boston-based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. worked on the landscaping, which includes grasses, trees and plants native to the region.

The Missouri Botanical Garden will use the space as a learning ground for planting native plants, according to the university.

The project, which Sobo wouldn't share the price tag of, led to the closing of Euclid Avenue from Parkview Place to the south of the building. Children's Place was also closed from the turnaround in front of St. Louis Children's Hospital to the eastern edge of Euclid, according to the university.

…I've heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea:

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

— Emily Dickinson

Now, the space is transformed, Marcallini says, and over the next few years, the Kentucky coffee trees, willows, redbuds and swamp white oaks will further transform the space as they grow.

Though it's too hot for people to spend much time outside now, he figures that will change as temperatures drop.

"As it gets cooler, I think it's going to be a tremendous asset to the university," Mancallini says.

Before Ellen Clark's death, the mother of five and grandmother of three got to work along with her husband and Lin on the plaza's design.

Now, the finished project offers a space for everyone, with nature, design and, if they're looking for it, maybe a little hope, too.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Kristen Hare