A look at B.C.’s award-winning St. Mary’s Hospital

St. Mary’s Hospital, designed by Farrow Partnership Architects in association with Perkins+Will, was twice honoured at the annual Design & Health International Academy Awards held in Toronto on July 12. Designed with the goal of being North America’s first carbon-neutral hospital, the project took top awards in the categories of both the Use of Art in the Patient Environment and Sustainable Design.

Located in Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada, the LEED Gold-targeted facility was conceived as a long-term asset to the community. The Sechelt Indian Band donated the site for the hospital nearly 50 years ago on land that was once part of a residential school. It is significant that a place of health has arisen to help people alleviate memories of that bleak era, to see brighter days on the Sunshine Coast.

Drawing on the talents of First Nations’ peoples who settled here thousands of years ago, the architects conceived of three public area art installations: a 20-by-50-foot-wide mural for the new lobby; three totem poles at the main entrance; and memorable elevator lobby plaque symbols. The purpose of the featured artwork is to bring meaning, under standing and connection to this community and its hospital. The theme of healing was essential not only in relation to the hospital but also with regard to the First Nations’ painful history on this particular land.

Carbon-neutrality was achieved by employing energy conservation measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from burning oil, coal or gas. In addition to a high-performance building envelope, the hospital includes 125 boreholes, each 250 feet deep, to provide zero-carbon energy for heating and cooling for the building distributed through radiant slabs. A 19-kilowatt photovoltaic array, the largest of its type in British Columbia, provides electricity. Patients look out over a green roof which, along with white roofs, reduces solar heat gain.

Passive design strategies, such as the use of solar shading and operable windows, allow for natural ventilation. Lighting is equipped with occupancy sensors and exhaust air recovery ventilation. As a result, the project is on target to achieve a 40-per-cent energy savings.

“St. Mary’s is setting a new benchmark in health care design,” says Tye Farrow, senior partner at Farrow Partnership Architects. “The art and architecture together provides a new public face for the hospital that radiates a message of welcome with roots and stories from native culture. The shape of the building itself was inspired by the cedar bent-box, unique to the coastal First Nations. In this concept, the bent-box holds our most precious possession – our health.”

Says Susan Gushe, managing director of Perkins+Will’s Vancouver office, “This project represents to us the success that comes from merging state-of-the-art care with a deep connection to nature and community – and the importance of striving for design excellence in healthcare facilities.” Nursing units are shaped in a bent “lacrosse stick” shape to improve sight lines and reduce travel distances; a publicly accessible interior “porch” along the south elevation provides respite for patients by allowing direct views to Georgia Straight; 85 per cent of spaces have access to natural daylight; and skylights and clerestory windows are included in the emergency room area where the large floor plate would have restricted access to natural light.

In addition to being consistent with high sustainability standards for the building as a whole, the artwork creates a legacy as treasured pieces for generations to come. For the sunburst mural, only recycled or salvaged materials were used. The base is made of re-used form plywood. Cedar blocking is from milling operations cut offs. Copper in the sun rays was salvaged and pounded with hammers for texture, then pieced together like a puzzle.


Farrow Partnership Architects (FPA) is setting a new standard for the design of places where people can thrive rather than merely cope—economically, culturally and physically. The firm has instigated a movement, Cause Health, which seeks to redefine the meaning of health beyond the current focus on avoidance of ill-health, to the active advance ment of true health by design. FPA’s projects span North America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and the Middle East and have attracted multiple global awards, including Best International Design award from the U.K.’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). The Canadian Medical Association Journal has described a Farrow project as “one of the most architecturally advanced hospitals in the world.” Senior partner Tye Farrow is recognized as a worldwide thought leader on the subject of salutogenic (heath-causing) design, having recently presented at industry-leader conferences in Finland, New Zealand, Israel, the UK, South Africa and the USA. The firm also specializes in a hands-on co-creative process designed to raise the design aspirations of each client constituency. Drawing on roots established over 50 years ago, FPA’s practice areas include health care, research, education, hospitality, institutional, multi-residential, seniors’ living, urban design, master planning, interior design and knowledge development.

For more information, visit www.farrowpartnership.com.


Established in 1935, Perkins+Will is a global interdisciplinary architecture and design firm founded on the belief that design has the power to transform lives and enhance society. With a staff of 1,600 in 24 locations worldwide, the firm serves clients across a broad range of project types and grounds its work in deep research. Perkins+Will ranks among the world’s top design firms and is the recipient of hundreds of awards. Social responsibility is fundamental to the firm’s outlook, work, and culture, and every year Perkins+Will donates one percent of its design services to non-profit organizations. With pioneering tools to advance sustainable design practices, the largest green building portfolio in North America, nearly 1,000 LEED® Accredited Professionals, and a commitment to the 2030 Challenge, Perkins+Will is recognized as one of the industry’s preeminent sustainable design firms.

For more information, visit www.perkinswill.com.