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Healing Art

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Dangling four stories inside a Kaiser Permanente stairwell, two workers on Tuesday installed rectangular colored-glass panels within a metal sculpture titled “Life Light.”

Commissioned for the new Rock Creek Medical Office Building that Kaiser Permanente is building in Lafayette, the sculpture is a combination of twisted steel mesh and multi-colored panes of glass, strung together to look like a strand of DNA.

Looking down at the structure from the fourth floor, the piece seems to wind in precise arcs all the way to the basement, with the panes of glass jutting out like spokes of a bicycle tire from each section of the double helix.

“Every floor has a different configuration,” Englewood artist Susan Cooper said. “It gets tighter each floor.”

Berry Morton, Rock Creek’s associate medical director, said the sculpture is part of the “subtle way we communicate to our members physical health, intellectual health and physiological well-being.”

Kaiser wanted to “create some unique things to make the stairwells attractive,” Morton said. “This concept — an artistic representation of a genetic protein — brings things together people can identify with, like grace and power. I hope it is enjoyable for people to be in the stairwell.”

Lights pointed at the sculpture from every floor will create prisms of color throughout the staircase. Kaiser’s doctors hope the art will entice more patients to climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator, Cooper said.

“Kaiser Permanente’s art collection appeals to children and intellectuals,” Cooper said. “The art is for everybody. The art is well-chosen.”

Jane Lewis, Kaiser’s art coordinator, said Kaiser believes “in the healing power of the arts. If people are not feeling good, they are able to focus on the art.”

Cooper’s sculpture represents life, medicine and motion.

She was first asked to do the project in October 2003. It took her about two months to come up with a design and get it approved.

Each pane of glass has two colors on it, so each side of the DNA strand represents a staggered spectrum of color.

The project will take two weeks to build, Cooper said. The double helix, which is suspended from the stairwell’s ceiling, weighs about 600 pounds and is held together with one cable, which runs through the middle of the steel structure.

“Stairwell art isn’t really done a lot, so it was a real challenge for the artist,” said Lewis, who found Cooper while researching aerial artists.

Out of five artists who submitted proposals, Cooper and one other artist were selected to complete projects in Kaiser’s new medical offices.

The 230,000-square-foot building sits adjacent to the Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center, on the southeast corner of Colo. Highway 42 and U.S. Highway 287, about a mile north of the Northwest Parkway.

Cooper, who primarily works on public art projects, is also on the T-Rex design team, devising art enhancements for RTD’s newest light rail stations.

Rock Creek, which is costing $73 million to build and will open in January 2005, is Kaiser’s first attempt at branching out from the Denver metro area.

Prior to Exempla’s opening, any of Kaiser’s patients who needed specialty medical care, such as surgery, had one of three facilities to choose from — St. Joseph Hospital and the adjacent Kaiser Franklin Medical office in downtown Denver, or Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge. Neither hospital had room to expand.

The new Kaiser facility will employ more than 100 physicians and 300 support staff, said Debbie Zuege, medical specialty operations director at Rock Creek.

The facility, which broke ground in October 2002, is being built to serve about 110,000 Kaiser members, but it has the capacity to “double that,” Morton said.

Additional space can be added in the future, Zuege said.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.