Holistic Treatment

Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, Thunder Bay, Ontario
Salter Farrow Pilon Architects Inc. (Farrow Partnership Architects Inc., Salter Pilon Architects Inc., successors)

This facility is situated in a northern Ontario community steeped in cultural and natural history and First Nations’ traditions. Located on Lake Superior near the Manitoba border, the City of Thunder Bay was created 25 years ago out of the amalgamation of two cities, Port Arthur and Fort Williams, each of which had its own hospital and wanted to retain its autonomy. The new amalgamated 375-bed, 680,000 square foot Thunder Bay Regional Health Centre is located centrally to serve both communities. It is affiliated with Lakehead University, and serves as a health centre for a rural populace spread over an area the size of France.

The area has strong connections to the forestry, pulp and paper industries as well, and the Centre was thus conceived in the architects’ planning process and research as a typology that should be interpretive of these cultural and ecological factors of the region. Hospitals, for the most part, have been planned for health care function with little regard for place. In this project, design strategies revolved around the site’s distinct history, the visual perception of sunlight and availability and quality of light, and reactions to natural landscape formations like rock outcrops, forest paths, water and wind, rain and snow.

A discourse surrounding the design concentrated efforts to create a truly central community centre for the public and innovate the typical programmatic elements of a hospital such as nursing areas and cancer radiation bunkers. Consideration was also given to the tectonics of construction as well as the materiality and the way it behaves in the north west region of Ontario. Changes in light and shadows as they move through the seasons were also considered architecturally and for the light’s potential healing effects.

The forward-thinking clients believe that hospitals need a design that enhances healing and that most hospitals are not planned in this way. This attitude enabled the development of a comprehensive design philosophy in which the delivery of health care and the creation of architecture work in tandem to improve the quality of life. Currently, hospital functional programs required by the Ministry of Health are still based on the principle that form follows function without considering that the senses play a part in what the architects call the “art of healing.”

Thirty-five of the site’s 60 acres are used for the building while the remaining area is part of a series of bogs and natural drainage channels (leading to the McIntyre River) and undisturbed bush into which the site concept threads. Sitting areas, edging the side of the building’s main path and covered with a low wood open roof focused around hearth and fireplace, are morphologically commensurate with the regional typology informed by clearings at intersections of lines–like river edges, or edges of bodies of water and other natural features.

In fact, the “T” informs two main building blocks and a modular frame of 9 metres by 12 metres for ease of structural design, erection and future flexibility. This is the main organizing programmatic orientation.

At the intersection of two routes, there is a thin lookout to the lower area occupied by the caf. The main vertical circulation is made up of a stair that curves in two directions and represents the violent force of waterfalls of the area, such as those at Kakabeka. A saw-cut edge represents the cliff edge at the river’s edge and may be used as a gathering or resting place.

To the west, the main entrance is located in the crutch of the north-south oriented “T” to create a sheltered civic urban plaza which traps sunlight. This typology creates the first urban gathering spot within the city. The edge of the plaza is lined on two sides by the hospital, while an arcade for market activities is located along the other two. There is a sloped grade of five feet in height which creates an amphitheatre and begins to frame a horizon view of Mount McKay, the major geographic feature of the city besides Lake Superior. This urban room of sorts makes the hospital a civic point for the celebration of important events for the region–an amenity currently lacking in the community.

Main public areas use wood as a major structural element while steel is used for the rest of the building. The use of wood, particularly where the exterior metal sun canopy meets the wooden structural column and trusses, references the area’s railroad history, and its wood-based economic roots–the wood industry today is still a major employer of the community. While the Ontario Building Code does not readily allow for the use of wood in hospitals, the architects successfully negotiated its use with the Building Department and the Ontario Fire Marshall. The exterior of the building is clad in stone in a mix of cut Tyndal stone, native to nearby Manitoba, and an aggregate masonry unit made of crushed Tyndal and cement both in a mix of smooth bush hammer and a rough surface treatment. This is a departure from the typical brick or pre-cast cladding found on many Ontario hospitals.

A gentle curve in the top of the “T” main circulation route follows the east-west path of the sun. The glazing on the southern edge allows natural light to act as a primary organizer in the daily life of the facility and features in all public areas. A light strategy goal included giving a sense to inhabitants and staff that they have spent time outdoors, particularly important because they live in a northern climate where sunlight hours can be very limited. Light penetration is further enhanced through the design of the main public corridor, which maximizes light access at various seasons, and further connects the facility to the area’s natural environment. And with direct views to outside through three-storey mini-atria in each of the in-patient areas, there is individualized control of personal environments for staff, access to natural light and views, and a more convenient proximity to patients and efficient workpaths.

Client: Thunder Bay Regional Hospital; Cancer Care Ontario; Northwestern Ontario Regional Cancer Centre

Architect team: Tye Farrow, (partner-in-charge of design), George Farrow, Hong Kim, Doug McCann, John Kapov, Peter Correia, Veronica Rodriguez, June Geng, Jennifer Harris, Karen Holmberg, Carol Pardue, Beverly Johnstone Macaulay, Kwang Kim, Bessie Chan, Rudina Aleski, Chris Whelan, Harvey Wu, Rowan Caster, Kristi Judge, Henry Lowry, Cory Stechyshyn, Matthew Ellis, Scott Wiseman, Dan McKay, Emma Ludwell, Gerry Pilon, Leonard Gosse, Grant Wilder, Steve Cliche, Al Power, Marty Brooks

Structural: Mickelson/Cook joint venture

Mechanical: H.H. Angus & Associates Ltd.

Electrical: H.H. Angus & Associates Ltd.

Civil: Wardrop Engineering

Landscape architecture: Schollen & Company with KSGM Architects and Engineers

Interiors: Salter Farrow Pilon Architects Inc.

Other specialist consultants: Larden Muniak Consulting (life safety) Entro Communications (signage)

Acoustics: Aercoustics Engineering Ltd.

Area: 680,000 sq ft

Budget: $180 million

Completion: February, 2004

Photography: Farrow Partnership Architects