Published on : August 19, 2010

Wellesley Central Place ~ A Green Model for Aging

Wellesley Central Place ~ A Green Model for Aging

The Wellesley Central Place, a division of the Drs. Paul and John Rekai Centre, is unlike any other long-term care home in Toronto.  Designed to function as an independent village, it emphasizes wellness focusing on the capabilities of individual patients, rather than a disabilities-centred medical model.

Working closely with the design team, Chief Administrative Officer Mary Hoare has helped create an asset for the community that sets a new standard for senior living.  Focused on two main guiding principles, Wellesley Central Place provides a home-like environment and the opportunity for residents to exercise choice and control in their lives.  The centre provides 150 long-term care beds and extended community outreach programs.  Residents live in one of six “neighborhoods” within the building.  Each resident area has a unique character, which recognizes one’s status as an adult and reinforces a sense of personal identity.

Specialized, life-enriching programs are also available to residents with differing cognitive abilities. A separate, safe, enclosed residential unit leading to a designated garden space is available to residents with advanced levels of dementia.  Residents with full intellectual capabilities are also able to take advantage of on-site lectures offered through a partnership with nearby Ryerson University.

Applying principles normally used when designing a small town, a mixture of urban design elements help create a rich visual texture of spaces and forms.  Rising only 4-storeys, the centre is intentionally scaled to respect the pedestrian character of the surrounding neighbourhood.  To further blend with its surroundings, the building is clad in heritage-tone brick masonry set atop a base of refined architectural stone.

The overall shape of the building was dictated in part by the unique curved geometry of the site, but also by the desire to capture the sun’s natural light and direct it into resident rooms.  Spanning the entire length, the metal trellis provides shading in the summer months while tracing an animated shadow path across its curved façade.

The building also edges Wellesley Street with the creation of a “front porch.”  The gently curving loggia covered by a trellis overgrown with flowering vines allows residents to be engaged with the activities of the street.  Directly adjacent to the porch, at the crux between the two blocks, the Winter Garden is an animated place of congregation where residents are able to enjoy the company of neighbours. Each resident home area also has direct access to an outdoor balcony with views to the northern garden area.

Nature and sunlight give us a continuous reminder of life and the integration of the indoor and outdoor environments is essential for the Long-Term Care residents.  Connections to nature and the outside world are created through front and back gardens, as well as two enclosed courtyards.  Water features, native plants and meandering paths are life-affirming elements that contribute to a sense of serenity.  Inside the courtyards, wooden shingles promote a residential atmosphere.  On the lower level a “main street” circulation path, with floor to ceiling glass, wraps the courts to allow natural light to filter deep into the adjacent common rooms.  Bathed in natural light, this internal street offers numerous opportunities to stop and socialize along the way.  Clustered along this route are the Family Dining Room, the Place of Worship, the Resident Lounge, the Beauty Salon and Barber Shop.

Plantings for seasonal change assist with orientation to space, time and season, even for those who remain indoors.  The soft landscape is designed to be maintenance free and combines an indigenous flora of suitable trees, shrubs, groundcovers, wildflowers and grasses.  Efforts to maximize the conservation of resources within the landscape included innovative approaches to irrigation to minimize water consumption, development of naturalized areas to reduce maintenance and plant selection to promote self-sustaining landscapes.  An environmentally sustainable green roof also provides excellent insulation, helps clean the air, and contributes to the health of the users, staff and community at large.

Serving a multilingual local urban community currently undergoing revitalization, the high-profile site had previously been the scene of conflict and controversy.  Members of the community felt abandoned in the late 1990’s when Wellesley Hospital’s services for the frail elderly and people with HIV/AIDS were merged with a downtown hospital.  Bitter protests and negotiations aimed at preventing Wellesley’s closure were unsuccessful. The 1950’s era facility was demolished in 2003.

When the province closed Wellesley Hospital, the property reverted to the Wellesley Central Health Corporation (WCHC), a non-profit entity that entered into discussions with the City of Toronto, the community and other stakeholders to examine redevelopment scenarios and master planning options.  While many wanted to see the site redeveloped, there was wide disagreement regarding the vision and major components.  “Every action we took—or contemplated taking—was under the microscope of public scrutiny,” recalls Hoare.  Working tirelessly with the community, the design team helped establish program parameters including a long-term care facility, non-profit housing, market housing, and parkland.  It was also mandated that the centre be the cornerstone of this project and a “showpiece” that would set the standard for future surrounding developments.

The overall goal was to create interesting urban environments with seasonal variations that are comfortable, engaging and therapeutic. As townhouses and residential condominiums slowly complete the urban composition, the project is now considered a successful urban renewal initiative at a landmark location in Toronto.  “I never thought I’d be in a position to accomplish what we’ve achieved here,” says Hoare.  “There is a great sense of satisfaction from overcoming so many obstacles to create a progressive long-term care resource for the community.”

About the Author

Sean Stanwick, B. Arch., M.E.Des.(Arch.).

Sean engages in a range of professional activities that include architectural planning and design, special writing assignments and strategy development.  Sean is also a published author having written three books on architecture including Wine by Design, and Design City Toronto.  He holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Toronto and a Master of Environmental Design in Architecture and Planning from the University of Calgary.  Sean is an Associate at Farrow Partnership Architects in Toronto Canada.  Farrow Partnership is a world leader in setting new standards for the design of health and learning places. Working individually or in joint venture, the firm has designed more than $2.5 billion worth of construction projects. Farrow’s Toronto-based studio draws on themes from nature to create inspiring, award-winning projects across Canada and around the world.  www.farrowpartnership.com