How do you replace an institution with an urban village? Lots of planning, imagination and a long-term commitment to serving patients, staff and the community.
It is unlikely to come as a surprise to anyone that the quality of the physical environment, both indoor and outdoor, can have a significant impact on the human spirit and behaviour. Evidence shows that a well-designed environment can reduce patient stress, enhance the healing process and raise staff morale.
From the outset of the Queen Street Redevelopment Project—which began as an idea in 1999—CAMH adopted a vision where innovative patient care and research would be delivered from state-of-the art buildings that were integrated with the surrounding neighbourhood. The end result would be a safe, comfortable and welcoming place where patients could recover with dignity and social attitudes could change.
With our design vision firmly set, we focussed our attention on the details of the build.
For each phase of the build, we toured local and international facilities, attended conferences, reviewed research and conducted interviews with experts. And of course, we talked to the people who would be affected most. We have consulted with hundreds of CAMH staff, physicians and volunteers, current and former CAMH patients and families, neighbours and community members, partner hospitals and service agencies, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care staff, City of Toronto staff and local politicians.
Then, to test the effectiveness of the designs for patients and staff, we built and used full scale constructed mock-up rooms and, in our most recent phase (Phase 1C), used virtual reality simulation to review layouts.
Instead of a very large site with a wall around it, it seemed to make sense to divide it up into a series of blocks and make sure that not only could you find CAMH facilities, but housing, offices and a wide variety of other things that you can typically find in a city, anywhere. The idea is . . . that the mental health institution will disappear.
Frank Lewinberg, Partner, Urban Strategies
The resulting Master Vision and Principles document lays out in great detail the new CAMH we are already well on our way to creating. The five main principles in the final recommendation that have guided all design and build decisions are:
Focus on client empowerment and recovery
Provide staff and caregivers with the best work environment
Be an exemplary neighbour in the community
Establish a world-class centre for discovery and knowledge exchange
The Queen Street Redevelopment project is about much more than buildings. It is a catalyst for change. With mounting evidence that innovative building design and the surrounding environment can positively impact the healing process for patients, CAMH has endorsed the need to have recovery as a foundational concept for its redevelopment to ensure the best possible experience for patients and family.
Our new spaces allow patients to move with more freedom within and around their hospital units, choose more private settings when receiving treatment and support, and enjoy more natural “home-like” settings—all designed to increase self-efficacy and promote recovery.
CAMH has also worked with construction partners and employment providers though all stages of the redevelopment project to find meaningful employment for people with lived experience of mental illness, creating opportunities to build confidence and increase resiliency and independence.
The Urban Village Concept
The urban village concept was conceived as a mix of CAMH and non-CAMH uses and activities, a network of public streets and sidewalks, public and private open spaces and a series of blocks containing buildings each with their own street address. More than simply CAMH’s new home, the site would become a prominent and welcome member of a vibrant neighbourhood.
This integration is being achieved by extending existing streets through the site, creating new city blocks and enhancing public parks, and by mixing non-CAMH land uses with hospital facilities. The site design includes a network of buildings, streets, sidewalks, retail and open spaces that create a safe, comfortable, and welcoming place for patients, visitors and our neighbours in the West Queen West community.
Open Green Space & Public Art
CAMH's vision calls for a mix of private and open green spaces—including courtyards, landscaped rooftop gardens, a greenhouse and community garden—that can be used by our patients. Nestled between Shaw and Paul E. Garfinkel parks, our new site and landscape design for Phase 1C will ensure patients have views of shaded green spaces from every bedroom window.
Spaces in hospital facilities will also include therapeutic art installations, which evidence suggests have positive impact on patient well-being. Installations designed to stimulate the senses and connect with people on many levels are being incorporated throughout the site. Art ranges from paintings, photographs and prints, works of wood, stone and ceramic, to digital and multimedia projects.
To support CAMH's mandate to be environmentally responsible, we have incorporated many "green" and sustainable design elements into the redevelopment project. These efforts resulted in the Canada Green Building Council awarding CAMH with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold in 2013 for our second phase (Phase 1B) buildings, the first hospital in Ontario ever to achieve this.
For the current phase, we are planting three new trees for every one taken down, and wood from felled trees is being used as a feature in new buildings. Other green highlights include:
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and products that meet or exceed Canadian Standards Association and LEED requirements
Landscaped green roofs
Furniture and medical furnishings that reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and compounds
Bicycle parking and change/shower facilities that promote bicycle use and commuting
Use of low-emitting materials, such as adhesives, sealants, paints and flooring.
Respecting Our History
One of the most distinctive architectural features at CAMH’s Queen Street site is, without doubt, the historic brick wall that was built by patients in the nineteenth century. Recognizing the historical significance of the structure, the wall was designated a heritage property by the City of Toronto in 1997, along with two onsite storage buildings that were also built in the late 1800s.
CAMH is committed to conserving and preserving our historic landmarks. CAMH commissioned a heritage conservation plan which, in conjunction with a heritage agreement with the City of Toronto, guides our conversation and preservation efforts. Conservation work on the wall and storage buildings began in the summer of 2007 and will continue through to the completion of the Queen Street site redevelopment. An archival display of the site’s asylum history lines the walls of the main floor of the Doctors Association Building.