Taking down the walls around mental health care

With the world continuing to face the challenges of a pandemic, we are becoming more attuned to our own mental wellness and that of the people around us. As World Mental Health Day approaches on October 10, we recognize the increased importance of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world’s leading research centres in its field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre.

Photo courtesy of Stantec

At their Queen Street campus just west of Toronto’s downtown core, CAMH has been carrying out a multi-phased Master Plan since 2001, taking down walls – metaphorically and physically – while strengthening ties with the local neighbourhood. The goal? To normalize and destigmatize mental health care.

The latest phase

As a reinvigorated modern academic health sciences centre, the project includes 235 inpatient beds, outpatient treatment, research, and education elements as well as a public urban park on Queen Street, and a more secluded landscaped campus public space set back one block.

Photo courtesy of Stantec

Community connection

The eight-storey McCain Complex Care & Recovery Building – the heart of CAMH – is the new urban gateway to the campus and public face of CAMH. It houses 110 patient beds and outpatient treatment clinics. The building is also home to the public-facing program, which includes the education and resource centre that provides an open public connection from the city street to the public interior courtyard at ground level and the 290-seat auditorium on levels 2 and 3. This public connection is made possible by the complex’s siting tight to the city sidewalk and a deliberate program mix that serves both CAMH patients and the general public.

Photo courtesy of Stantec

The McCain Complex Care & Recovery Building establishes a dynamic urban design presence that promotes public interaction, curiosity, and education. The facade is staggered with a combination of curtain wall glazing, limestone, and wood framed portals, that form a two-storey podium similar in scale to the retail street frontage along Queen Street.

The seven-storey Crisis & Critical Care Building offers 125 patient beds on five floors set above a two-storey podium, which houses the emergency department, urgent care clinics, and administrative support programs. It also includes non-CAMH retail programs along the entire Queen Street frontage. The Crisis & Critical Care Building participates as a piece of the urban fabric balancing its patient-focused treatment environment with a vibrant and engaging public face. The retail frontage has the same two-storey stone, wood, and glass palette along Queen Street. The 5-storey inpatient care tower is set back above the second storey to minimize its mass and scale, clad in a mix of masonry and curtainwall. A vibrant streetscape is encouraged through the retail program mix and a six-meter wide public interior street which connects Queen Street to the new open park space to the south of the building. Exterior therapeutic spaces include courtyards, terraces, and safe balconies, which encourage patients to spend time outdoors with views and space for activities.

Wellness-focused spaces

The buildings interiors are designed to create spaces that are welcoming, uplifting, and non-institutional for both patients and staff alike. The openness in clinical environments provides sufficient space to prevent feelings of crowding in communal areas. Lounges and administrative spaces offer appealing views of the neighbourhood’s heritage buildings and parks that offer positive distractions. These areas also encourage self-expression with readily available writeable surfaces for capturing ideas and thoughts.

Rendering courtesy of Stantec

In developing the interior design, the use of colour was discussed with both staff and patients as a design device to create atmospheres that either energize or calm occupants. Private spaces, like bedrooms, are designed to feel especially comfortable and homelike. Variety in patient bedrooms is achieved via use of accent colours, which patients found to be more homelike, rather than the monotony of a single colour scheme. And while much of the base building palette is quite neutral, accent colours are complemented by brighter furnishings and warm wood-look finishes.

Colour was used to cue similar functions between the two buildings. For example, a bright, welcoming yellow is used at the First Impressions desks and care desks. Quiet rooms and exam rooms always feature a calming pale blue. Each inpatient unit level has a unique colour (consistent between the two buildings) and a corresponding large-scale nature image, which aids in intuitive orientation and wayfinding.

An artistic touch

A standout among the design features of CAMH is the Therapeutic Art Installation program. It integrates artistic elements that enhance the patient and visitor experience with the healing power of art, to aid in recovery, positive distraction, and well-being. Each of the main public spaces, clinic reception areas, and inpatient units are designed to house public art pieces. The Therapeutic Art Installations are comprised of a variety of media, including sculpture, photographic prints, paintings, textile-based art, lighting, stone carving, and art on glass and were selected through an open art competition. Many of the artists whose works were selected have lived experience with mental illness or have supported loved ones in their mental health journeys. The palette of materials and finishes complement the artwork and their location supports intuitive wayfinding.

Photo courtesy of Stantec, artwork by Rebecca Baird

The facility will welcome patients, support partners, and staff soon. The completion of this latest phase of CAMH’s forward-thinking master plan continues to establish a unique urban village that supports wellness and helps society move closer to the goal of normalization of mental healthcare.

As part of the Plenary Health team, Stantec was the architect of record, interior designer, landscape designer and structural/civil engineer partnering with design-builder PCL Constructors Canada Inc. Phase 1C began construction in December 2017 and achieved substantial completion in September 2020.