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Journey, discovery + wellness: The Ron Joyce Children's Health Centre

A client-focused design approach delivers a contextual and supportive healthcare facility for all Hamiltonians.

The Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre celebrated its official grand opening on November 17. Located on a brownfield site in downtown Hamilton, the new 19,000 SM Ron Joyce Children's Health Centre (RJCHC) consolidates existing ambulatory and rehabilitation programs into a new facility. Stantec Architecture led the design of the new facility as a member of the PPP Proponent Team led by PCL Partnerships Ltd. We talked with lead design team members, Deanna Brown and Jane Wigle, about the specific needs of a pediatric facility.

Q: How do you approach design of a pediatric facility differently than one for adults?

Jane: We spend a lot of time thinking about how the design of spaces will make people feel. In designing a pediatric facility, imagining how it might feel from a child’s perspective is an important part of the approach. It’s important to have building and spatial scale that is not overwhelming or intimidating, to create a building atmosphere that conveys warmth and acceptance, and to design features that encourage children to explore, discover, and become engaged with their surroundings and their community.   

One of our most significant challenges was that the RJCHC provides services for clients between the ages of 2 and 18. At the same time, the Prosthetics and Orthotics and Audiology programs also serve adults, including seniors. So, it was critical that the design not be juvenile or childish in its approach. No teenager arriving into the mental health program wants to be faced with Sesame Street imagery. We needed to be respectful of this age diversity in our planning, design, and development of theme.

To appeal to a wide range of ages we focused on the theme of journey, discovery, and connections with community. We felt that this could be appreciated on multiple levels while remaining playful at the same time.

This theme also recognizes that, most of the time, children come along with a parent or another adult caregiver, who also needs to feel supported within the facility. The main lobby, the café, and family resource center are intended to convey a lighthearted, welcoming, and warm atmosphere – a flexible space with multiple play, social, and research opportunities for the clients and their families.

The programs offered at the RJCHC also have unique needs. Some programs required calming environments (Autism Spectrum Disorder and Child and Youth Mental Health Program) while others wanted stimulating, active spaces (Developmental Pediatric Rehabilitation and Prosthetics and Orthotics). These differences were integral to the interior design decisions regarding color, texture, and artwork, but it was essential that the design approach was consistent throughout the building so that the overall appearance would not feel piecemeal.

Q: How is this project contextual to the community it services? Is there anything that makes it unique and Hamilton-specific?

Deanna: The RJCHC is located in an area of Hamilton that is undergoing great change. This site is located at the periphery of the industrial district of the city and was targeted for redevelopment to help kick-start revitalization.

Our challenge was to celebrate the history and features of Hamilton within the facility design. The client group emphasized the importance of maintaining a view to the north (to Hamilton Bay) and a view to the south (to the escarpment) on every level of the facility. This got us thinking about more and more connections that could be made with city landmarks and interesting Hamilton history.

Hamilton is represented in a myriad of elements located throughout the facility. One very visible connection is in the playground structure, where vertical logs represent the towering smoke stacks of industrial Hamilton.

On the interior, a two-story high map of the city is incorporated into the Family Resource Centre. The Hamilton map reappears in the theme panel installations throughout the building. The theme panels include interesting facts about Hamilton and illustrate the locations of natural features and amenities – everything from trails, parks, and waterfalls to heritage buildings.

The map graphic extends to the privacy film applied on interior glazing throughout the building. Many children and their families will make repeated visits to the RJCHC. Over time these families will have an opportunity discover and celebrate the uniqueness of Hamilton as they explore the building.

Q: Everyone is talking about innovation in design of health facilities. What does innovation look like for the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre?

Jane: I think the development of the discovery theme was innovative. In the P3 project delivery model, project-specific output specifications (PSOS) are design guidelines for the Proponent team. For RJCHC, the PSOS mandated that the building include a clear public zone that ran north-south on the site and a primary east-west corridor. With requirements for daylight and view towards each of the cardinal directions, it established the idea of the building as a compass. The idea of the building as a tool that could help each of the clients (kids) find their own way, on their own journey, became a powerful metaphor.

With daylight and views to the north, south, east, and west on each level, we recognized that this would provide a very clear and effective wayfinding scheme and also support the idea of discovery and connection to community. The metaphor of the compass helped us to think about the building as a kind of device that would welcome and enable clients to develop in their own ways.

Within the plan, spaces at the ends of the corridors became “sites” and “destinations” for the development of theme panels which will be used for small group interaction, or quiet retreat.

The focus on discovery and community connections creates in RJCHC, a place that is firmly rooted in its local community, without limiting the boundary of what community means in the 21st century.

Q: There is a lot of discussion about resilience – whether in facility design or infrastructure or, in the case of health care, in mind, body, and spirit. Did you think about resilience at all in the design of this facility?

Deanna: The clinical staff and caregivers spent a great deal of time considering how they would utilize every space in the facility, how many services they could provide in each of those spaces, and the myriad of clients each space would need to serve. It was essential to RJCHC that the design of the facility be inherently resilient, flexible, adaptable, and able to cope with future change.

The corridors in the facility are 8 feet wide. There are uninterupted10-feet-wide corridors running east-west on every floor. Wide corridors such as these are unusual outside of acute care hospitals, but reflect the diverse range of clients in the RJCHC who use a wide range of customized mobility devices and prosthetics. This generous circulation space also allows corridors to become therapeutic clinical space, which encourages spontaneous interaction between families and staff without congestion and ensures that every publicly accessible space can be used for treatment and therapy now and in the future.

Q: How does it feel to see this project finally opening to the community?

Jane: After years of planning and countless meetings, it feels great!  With the client and family experience at the core of the design, it’s set to empower clients with cognitive, behavioral, and physical challenges to be their best selves.

As RJCHC clients start their journey to wellness in this new building, its resilience and impact on health outcomes will be tested. We believe that RJCHC is a special place. That it is unique to Hamilton and to its clientele. It has been a great honor to be involved in such a transformational project.

*Stantec Architecture Ltd was Proponent's Designer; Montgomery Sisam/Perkins+Will was PDC Architect.

The points of the compass became a design inspiration and powerful metaphor for the journey RJCHC clients will make on their way to health and wellness.

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