Channeling Empathy: UHN Tunnel

Tunnel revitalization project offers peace and respite.

It is rare to hear people associate “joy” with their hospital experience, but research shows that art can have a powerful affect on well-being. This was the inspiration behind the newly renovated two-kilometre-long underground tunnel system connecting SickKids, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto General Hospital, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and Toronto Rehab. “They are used by caretakers to transport their patients on gurneys if a specialized procedure not offered in the patient’s hospital is needed. They had fallen into neglect and disrepair and formed a dreary maze difficult to navigate,” says Stefan Sagmeister, an Austrian-born, U.S.-based designer and typographer with a client list that includes the Rolling Stones and the Guggenheim Museum, and who spearheaded the project funded by the Weston Family Foundation.

“Working very closely with designer Linus Lohoff, we created a colour palette directly inspired by Canada’s flora featuring lots of muted blues, earthy ochres, and piny greens. We tried to create designs hovering between pure abstraction and nature representation. We purposefully including clichés like flowers, birds, and butterflies. We wanted the imagery to be open enough to let your mind wonder and concrete enough to give direction to that wondering.

“Besides transporting patients from one facility to another, the hospitals utilized these tunnels as storage space for surplus hospital beds and medical waste dumpsters. Many walls and some ceilings were cluttered with pipes of every size, emergency boxes and electrical cabinets. To successfully negotiate the elimination of all these elements seemed impossible, considering the involvement of five different hospital bureaucracies. So, we decided to embrace these conditions and use them as the starting point for our designs: birds wound up chirping from electrical boxes and spiders descended on strings from steam pipes.” As a final touch, a soundtrack of calming classical music composed and performed by Victoria Hong, has recently been installed.

Art Direction: Stefan Sagmeister
Design: Linus Lohoff
Production: Nigel Scott, Devil’s Thumb
Music: Victoria Hong
Studio: Sagmeister Inc.
Client: The Weston Family Foundation, Toronto, Canada

Photography by Simon Tanenbaum