The University of Nebraska Medical Center has recently completed an addition to the Buffett Cancer Center. The Chihuly Sanctuary is part of the center’s healing garden and provides a space for patients and staff to meditate and reflect. Designed by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly, the sanctuary sits in an upper-level roof Healing Garden yard on the fourth floor of the ten-story building. The undulating glass enclosure is filled with ten site-specific art installations of Chihuly’s colorful glass sculptures, as well as a series of glass on glass drawings.

“With a background in architecture, I’ve always been interested in space and light. I also love glasshouses, and I thought this type of structure would be an appropriate extension of Leslie’s Healing Garden,” said Chihuly in a prepared statement about the motivations behind the design. “My goal is to provide clear views into Leslie’s Healing Garden and to create a space for caregivers, researchers, and patients to meditate or to find a moment of peace.”

At the heart of the space, a large glass-filled conical form is reminiscent of the 17th-centruy British red house class cone hot shops that were once used for glassmaking. The bright conical space’s focal point is filled with reflected and refracted natural light, using the sanctuary’s lightly fritted glass to soften it as it enters. This fritting is also a reference to Chihuly’s Basket series.

The form of the building as a whole, and brightly colored roof line, were inspired by Chihuly’s Macchia Series. The project’s position in the larger building, along with its curving form, make it highly visible from many points throughout the center.

Dale Chihuly Nebraska

Chihuly produced a new series of glass on glass “drawings” for the new sanctuary. (Buffett Cancer Center/University of Nebraska)

The Chihuly Sanctuary is part of the campuses larger Healing Arts Program, which displays art across the entire medical center. “The physical art in the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center is only the beginning,” said Amy Jenson, executive director of the Healing Arts Program. “In the fall, we will be offering a number of therapeutic programs to build on the patient, family and staff experience.”

“A cancer diagnosis is one of the most profound experiences a patient can have,” added Daniel J. DeBehnke, M.D., M.B.A., CEO of Nebraska Medicine. “Numerous studies show the arts can have an
important impact on the healing process. That’s why the Healing Arts Program exists – to provide patients, their families and our staff a compassionate, supportive and inspirational environment.”

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