Award: Montgomery Sisam Architects for Sister Margaret Smith

I received my weekly email from Canadian Architect today, and the heading Montgomery Sisam Architect receives High Commendation for International Mental Health Design caught my eye. I bookmarked the article to read tonight, and was blown away, even by its limited description and small photo for the Sister Margaret Smith Addiction Treatment Centre in Thunder Bay Ontario.

I appreciate the design focus on social spaces to gather: the courtyards, the informal meeting spaces within the widened corridors. The access to daylight and connections to the outdoors will provide a wonderful alternative to room meetings. The large round skylights, textured wood walls and (it looks like) stone floor not only provide wayfinding but also ground patients with tactile changes based on internalized ideas of materials. As Edward Hall writes:

Architects traditionally are preoccupied with the visual patterns of structures – what one sees. They are almost totally unaware of the fact that people carry around with them internalizations of fixed-feature space learned early in life. Edward T. Hall: The Hidden Dimension

Bio-Psycho-Social Courtyard (Upper)

In 2007 I successfully defended my architectural thesisSupportive Housing for Mental Health Recovery: A Bio-Psycho-Social Perspective where I presented a holistic treatment of mental health patients in a setting between hospitalization. I provided a series of background material (psychological, perception, case studies) before presenting my design: a supportive housing facility that uses woods, stones, courtyards, skylights, connections with nature and even a gardening program to rehabilitate patients physically, psychologically and socially. While my design was for patients suffering from other illnesses (mood disorders, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia), the concepts and ideas are similar. As you can see, I used wood screens on walls, skylights in corridors on the upper floors, and clear access to nature, inside and out.

Bio-Psycho-Social Courtyard (Lower)

Now that I have some distance from my thesis, I can see how the design could have been better refined. Simplifying materials, changing the planes of some of them, and applying programs like LEED would push the design further. But thanks to this article about Montgomery Sisam Architect’s project, I feel validated in my thesis in a way that my defense couldn’t provide because I now know the ideas are appreciated and work for patients. For more information on the Sister Margaret Smith project, visit their site here.


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