Princess Margaret renovation features quality clinical space and welcoming environment

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Princess Margaret Hospital is known for its ability to balance state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment with compassion and care. There is an expectation that their architects share these goals and that they too balance technology with a commitment to patient-centred care. The latest building renovation is a testimonial to collaboration between like-minded organizations.

The M. Lau Breast Centre is slated to complete a $1.3 million interior renovation by Parkin Architects Limited in time for this year’s annual Weekend to End Breast Cancer in September. The project goal is to recognize patient and staff objectives and upgrade the environment to meet their needs. Moreover, this transformation also needed to maintain and improve upon the rigorous standards of the clinical environment.

This project consolidates all University Health Network breast-cancer clinical services to Princess Margaret Hospital. The technical purpose of the renovation is to create high quality clinical spaces, and to give ready access to patient intake and staff from a central space. These renovated areas are located off an existing atrium and consist of two pods of clinical space and another area for the Survivorship and Education programs. These areas combine public and private activity.

The breast imaging area had to be configured to accommodate two new digital mammography machines, which provide remote reading capabilities and a picture archiving system. Facility identity, patient privacy, well understood way finding, overlaid with a spa-like atmosphere were important design elements from the patient care perspective.

A highly visible location was created for the Survivorship Clinic, a patient support and after-care program for long-term monitoring, education, and counseling. A separate entrance gives identity to the Survivorship area while not detracting from the Breast Centre’s importance as a shared resource within the hospital.

Cancer survivors together with cancer patients are deliberately streamed to meet here. The whole Survivorship program is very patient-focused and meant to provide much needed support, inspiration and information for those patients and loved ones facing the personal challenges of cancer. Frequently, patients bring family members with them; therefore the space must accommodate the needs of the entire family, which requires a patient-friendly approach to this purpose built space.

The challenge for Parkin was to carefully select materials and design treatments that are patient-friendly while maintaining clinical standards. This has been accomplished through the creative use of wood-grain sheet flooring, porcelain stone tiles and frosted glass to meet health-care requirements of durability and ease of cleaning while providing a more natural, private and comforting hospital-patient interface.

A water feature provides a soothing distraction and reinforces a retreat-like feel to the Survivorship environment. Free moving water in a health-care situation presents infection control challenges. This requirement was satisfied with an easily maintained bubble wall. Air is invisibly jetted from the bottom of the wall and makes patterns of bubbles rising to the tops of the tubes. Unlike an aquarium, the bubble wall doesn’t have to be maintained. In addition, water symbolizes purification and cleansing, which brings a spa-like healthfulness to social areas.

In addition to softening the clinical aesthetic with materials and finishes, the designers and users wanted to minimize sharp edges and pointed corners in the partitions and millwork. Curves were introduced throughout the space. A translucent and enclosing metal screening the reception area also diminishes the usual clinical feeling.

Art is an important contributor to human comfort in clinical spaces. The Princess Margaret Hospital has an extensive art program that will be extended to, and become an important design element of the M. Lau Breast Centre renovation. In addition, a series of photographs of survivors will be located in the Survivorship area. A display case containing donated glass artwork adds visual interest to the space and also, by offering the contents for sale, will create an important fundraising opportunity.

The strength of the design is attributed in large part to successfully balancing aesthetic warmth with the placement of key clinical personnel and technologies in consistent and correct relationships. The process of design was one of collaboration. Throughout the process, top clinicians such as Drs. David McCready and Pamela Catton were directly involved in the design and provided leadership on many issues, including patient care and staff support.

The Princess Margaret Hospital establishes very high standards for itself and its patients and sets commensurate expectations for their architects for the appearance and quality of this renovation.