We enter Women's College Hospital from Grenville Street, through a door that's tucked between a monolithic limestone facade and a smaller, light-filled glass frontage accented by a bright fuchsia-tinted cube. To the east, a streetwall of raw limestone makes for an imposing, institutional presence. To the west, the more welcoming—and almost playful—glass frontage spells out the hospital's name.

Looking northeast from Grenville Street, the "pink cube" is prominent, image by Jack Landau

Stepping inside, a short retail-lined hallway opens out to a food court and a large atrium, where we meet Joanne Fletcher and Jack Leonetti of Walsh Canada. With the hospital now open, the Walsh team—together with WCH's Durwin Quan—tours us through the recently completed facility. Framed by gentle curves with accents of (artificial) greenery, the atrium doesn't feel like a hospital space. "And that's the point, it's not supposed to," Fletcher tells us. "It's not supposed to feel intimidating."

The atrium, image by Jack Landau

Designed by Perkins Eastman Black and IBI Group Architects, the new teaching hospital was built out in two phases. Rebuilt and expanded, the glass and concrete complex replaces wings built in 1935, 1956, and 1971. While the mid-to-late 20th century buildings were demolished to make way for the first phase the new hospital—dominated by the 10-storey structure at the east end of the site—the older wing was torn down in 2013, making way for the recently opened second phase. (Along with Bondfield ConstructionBlack & McDonald, and Bilfinger Berger, Walsh led the build team team for the project).

The atrium features a food court, image by Jack Landau

The second phase features a nine-storey concrete building fronting onto Grosvenor Street to the north, alongside a two-storey steel-framed pavilion fronting on Grenville Street to the south. From the exterior, the bright "pink cube" is a focal of the facility. Leonetti describes the brightly coloured cube as a placemaking gesture, as its "visibility from College Street makes it a sort of symbol of the hospital." 

Inside the pink cube, image by Jack Landau

The pink cube—which gets a lot less pink as your eyes adjust—is actually part of the hospital's conference centre. As Quan explains, "the entire space can be rented out for conferences and events, and it doesn't have to be medically related at all." Like most contemporary hospitals, the design strives to foster a welcoming and stress-reducing environment, and the interiors shy away from the institutional and intimidating ambiance often associated with older hospitals. 

The conference centre's smooth curves soften the atrium, image by Jack Landau

Alongside a number of smaller meeting rooms, the conference facility—which is also used by the hospital—features a fully accessible auditorium. With a capacity of approximately 160, the modern space is set up for teleconferencing and video streaming, letting "doctors and students connect to other hospitals in Ontario, and observe procedures from anywhere in the Province." 

The auditorium, image by Jack Landau

Through its affiliation with U of T, the hospital provides training for new doctors and medical professionals. With a strong women's health mandate, the hospital integrates its teaching with research, surgery, and clinics. Operating on an out-patient basis, the hospital is envisioned as a minimally intrusive presence in women's lives. "The idea is to let healing take place at home, which is a better long-term environment than a hospital," Fletcher tells us. 

Much of the flooring features calming patterns, image by Jack Landau

Across the facility, notes of colour animate the space, with a naturalistic motif recurring in many of the spaces. Throughout the interior, many of the glass walls feature colourful prints and patterns, which are embedded between two layers of glass. The interior is also dotted with real and artificial flora, creating a more relaxing environment. Since organic matter is a risk in healthcare facilities, Fletcher explains that the wood decor elements "were all treated with layers upon layers of finish, creating a hygienic seal."

A close-up nature scene in the glass, image by Jack Landau

Like the artificial plantings throughout the atrium (below), the natural wood elements—all of which was tested to ensure its safety—are designed to create a calming ambiance throughout the facility. Similarly, the decor pieces that dot the hospital are meant to soften the space. 

The atrium from above, image by Jack Landau

Despite its novelty—and the fact that heritage-listed neo-Georgian structure was somewhat controversially demolished—the space is rich in history. Women's College Hospital has been based in Toronto since 1883, when Emily Stowe, Canada's first licensed female doctor, led the advocacy to create a new teaching hospital for women. Located on a site that's housed a hospital for over 80 years, the facility is sprinkled with historical artifacts. Pieces from the archive are periodically rotated through the display cases, while the atrium's central stairway features stones from all three previous buildings (and three Prime Ministers). 

History is embedded in the walls, image by Jack Landau

Passing through the atrium's upper levels on our way to the accesssible green roof, Leonetti and Fletcher draw our attention to the atrium's limestone east wall. Although much darker in colour—and richer in texture—than the exterior limestone, "both of them are actually the same material," Leonetti explains. While the exterior cladding remains raw and unpolished, the treatment applied to the Ontario limestone that lines the atrium gives it a very different materiality.

The interior's limestone wall is much richer in texture and colour, image by Jack Landau

Meanwhile, the west side of the atrium features "a steel truss bridge," Fletcher tells us. Though the structure is painted to match the atrium's light interior, the bridge adds aesthetic variety to the space, acting as a subtle focal point alongside the conference centre's smooth curves and the limestone wall.

The steel truss bridge, image by Jack Landau

Past the bird-friendly fritted glass, the bridge's supports are seen attached to the roof.

The bridge's exterior structure, image by Jack Landau

Emerging onto the green roof of the lower phase two building, Fletcher notes that the entire facility was designed to meet LEED Silver standards. While the certification process is still ongoing, WCH features a number of energy-saving features, ranging from fairly extensive green roof coverage (well over the 20% minimum) to energy-efficient glazing. In addition, "the use of Ontario limestone is locally sourced, which helps achieve LEED certification," Fletcher adds. 

The green roof is accessible to staff, image by Jack Landau

As we don our protective white Tyvek suits, our tour comes to a close on a somewhat more dramatic note in the OR. Entering the highly sanitized space after hours, the technically advanced operating rooms are equipped with state-of-the art technology. Precisely climate-controlled, the operating rooms feature green-tinted lights, which Quan explains "helps the doctors see clearer contrast." 

A high-tech operating theatre, image by Jack Landau

The operating rooms are also equipped for live-streaming and video recording, allowing medical students the valuable opportunity to witness surgery practically first-hand. Seen below, one of the rooms we tour is specifically equipped for laser procedures. 

This room is specially equipped for laser surgeries, image by Jack Landau

Leaving the hospital, a sign reading "WOMEN'S" declaratively marks the main entrance. It's a symbol for a hospital dedicated to promoting women's health, and a new facility that was designed with women's needs—and input—in mind. Now underway, the hospital's Health Gap Campaign is drawing attention to the unequal (but seldom acknowledged) health outcomes in modern medicine.

The "WOMEN'S" sign fronts the hospital, image by Jack Landau

"[W]omen’s needs, including physiological differences, cultural challenges and life circumstances, are often not taken into consideration. This is The Health Gap. And for women in marginalized and disadvantaged communities, this gap is even wider," the WCH website reads. Through research, committed care, Canada's largest mental health network for women, and "a hospital designed to keep people out of the hospital," Women's College Hospital is working to close the gap. Inside, the architecture is working to close it too. 


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Related Companies:  Bilfinger Berger, Black & McDonald, Bondfield Construction, DeepRoot Green Infrastructure, Enwave Energy Corporation, IBI Group, Isotherm Engineering Ltd., Perkins Eastman Black, Walsh Canada, WSP