The new addition to the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, California, is an imposing $600 million building that doesn’t seem, at first, to have much to do with its namesake, famed naturalist John Muir. The rectangular shape and gleaming glass walls of the The Tom and Billie Long Patient Care Tower don’t speak directly to the stunning vistas of American wilderness that so enthralled Muir in the 19th century that he pioneered the movement to preserve open spaces. But this connection to preservation and the natural world was underlined through the addition of glass sculptures and architectural elements designed by Gordon Huether, noted public artist and one of the most prolific artists working in glass and a very successful large-scale public artist in any material.
Running across the main plaza, parallel to the hospital’s bulky facade, is the glass and steel sculpture entitled Mountain Range, which consists of two layers of glass and one layer of steel. Together, it’s two sections roughly equal the length of a football field and, at night, the glass emits a sunset-like orange-yellow light completing the reference to the dramatic landscape.
Bisecting the two mountain sculptures is a blue glass river that runs along the main pathway to the hospital, adding color to the otherwise earth-toned stone walkway.Entitled River of Light, Huether’s work is made from 87 dichroic glass coated tiles, 24-inches each, that are then fused with four layers of clear on top to create a glittering pathway of iridescent blue.
The resulting color array shifts depending on the angle, thanks to the unique qualities of dichroic glass, which in sunlight or artificial light catches the eye for its dynamic light-refracting qualities.
The tiles are topped with clear frit and were inset into the pavement. The river starts at a fountain, a rough-hewn Sierra granite Headwaters sculpture designed by landscape architect Gates and Associates. Huether’s blue river cuts through the mountain range and works its way to the main entrance of the hospital.
“The artwork, inspired by nature, supports the mission of John Muir Medical center by creating a sense of health and well-being,” Gordon Huether said in a prepared statement about the project.