Room for Reflection

Volume 52, Issue 1 :: Mark D. Levin, AIA :: Photographs by Alan Jaramillo Architectural Photography

Garden terrace

Garden terrace is distinguished by the stonewall that extends from the room’s interior to the exterior.

Floor plan

Floor plan of the chapel/contemplation suite.

Gilchrist Hospice Care is Maryland’s largest hospice organization, serving thousands of families annually through its in-patient facilities and at-home hospice care services. Additionally, Gilchrist provides support services for patients’ families during and after hospice care. Gilchrist’s new Jewish Chapel/Contemplation Suite is located on the Greater Baltimore Medical Center Towson campus. The impetus for the new Chapel/Family Room came from the CEO of MileOne Automotive and Chairman of Caves Valley Partners, Steven Fader. From his personal interaction with Gilchrist providing care for his father in 2011, Fader observed that, “So much of hospice really is for the living because you’re the one that goes on.” Recognizing that the Jewish community could use more resources and education about hospice care, Fader spearheaded the campaign to build a Jewish Chapel/Contemplation Room and hospitality area for the families and friends of the patients.

As part of the multi-tiered community initiative, Gilchrist engaged our firm, Levin/Brown & Associates, to create a space for the hospice patients and surviving relatives and friends to reflect and contemplate in a warm and comforting environment. Working with the Gilchrist team, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, we partnered with the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company to bring this project to fruition. The design team set out to conceptualize the vision into a design that would be welcoming to all and speak to the Jewish families, visitors, and patients through the integration of Jewish symbols, including a Ner Tamid—Eternal Light—and Mezuzahs on the doorposts.

A key feature of the design is the “living wall.” Rabbi Alvin Fine wrote: “Birth is a beginning and death a destination, but life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage made stage by stage to life everlasting.” With this in mind, we created “a journey of life” that is represented by the irregular progression of the Jerusalem stonewall both horizontally and vertically.

The journey begins in the world outside (in the courtyard) and progresses inward, where the journey continues the ups and downs of life’s encounters. The vertical changes in the wall texture represent the journey from birth through life to passing. Combining water, stone, glass, and natural light from the expansive skylight with the “living green wall” connects the built environment to nature, the world outside and beyond. The cascading waterfall’s continuous gentle trickle is both visual and audible, creating a comforting presence in the space. As

the stonewall extends through to the exterior garden, it is designed to further bridge the connection between spirituality and nature’s ever-changing existence. The living wall continues on to turn the corner into the open family area that can provide communal interaction that is loving, respectful, and supportive. This is a safe space where life’s challenges can be appreciated and where tears and laughter dwell together.

While the space is an open plan, the skylight, prayer table, and the living wall defines a serene meditation area that is welcoming to all. The Eternal Light above the living wall invokes a special connection to the Jewish spiritual traditions. The chapel’s interiors include an integrated family lounge with access to an outdoor terrace. Adjacent to the contemplation space is a hospitality suite that functions as a gathering area during the patients’ stay in hospice care.

Gilchrist President Catherine Hamel describes the mission this way: “The work of hospice is first about caring for the person, keeping them comfortable and helping them fulfill their wishes and any remaining life dreams and goals. Then we provide care for their loved ones as they reframe their new lives without this person’s presence.”

We’d like to think that our design helps Gilchrist to achieve these goals.

The author is a principal of Levin/Brown & Associates, an architecture firm specializing in religious buildings and based in Owings Mills, Maryland.