New prescriptions for building health

Globe and Mail
Lisa Rochon
Saturday November 12, 2011

In South Africa, Toronto-based Tye Farrow, an expert in hospital design, has been commissioned to create several centres of wellness – in rural, urban and township areas. The winner of a competition, decided by an 11-person jury from five continents, Farrow Partners were the design leads on a team that includes American firm Clark Nexsen and South African architects Ngonyama Okpanum.

Last week in Cape Town, they presented their winning ideas of wellness to South Africa's health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi. Even while that country struggles to eradicate high levels of tuberculosis and of HIV, long-term wellness is being heavily promoted. The centres are designed with a sculptural structure of an emblematic protea flower blooming white and resplendent at the complex's core. Surrounding it are educational clinics, a theatre, a library, fitness centres, and kitchens that serve as demonstration areas for healthy cooking and eating.

Tagged as Health Promotion Lifestyle Centres, their core's design, says Farrow, makes use of a lightweight, Teflon-coated material stretched over a metal frame to create the symbol of the blossoming flower. The surrounding buildings, with simple pitched roofs, are constructed of cinderblock or brick. Naturally ventilated and sustainably designed, of the lifestyle centres Farrow says, “We wanted to create something … that is symbolic enough to create massive outbreaks of health.”

Farrow Partnership Architects have designed hospitals in Mississauga and Thunder Bay; Doha, Qatar; Port of Spain, Trinidad; and have a carbon-neutral hospital under construction in Sechelt, B.C. But the enthusiasm in Cape Town for architecture that excites and enlightens people about health is especially rewarding. “We've never seen anything like this anywhere,” Farrow says, about the notion of wellness being trumpeted so loudly through architecture. Six lifestyle centres are to be completed across South Africa by 2014.

Our health bill in Canada is enormous. In Ontario alone, $47-billion is set aside this year to cover the Ministry of Health's budget. That's 41 per cent of the province's total budget, and most of it is being spent on treatment and rehabilitation – not prevention.

Long gone are the days when hospitals needed to focus exclusively on infectious diseases. The new pandemics are related to a stunning lack of exercise in most countries around the world – even, for example, in Scandinavia, where we like to think impressive lifestyle choices reign. In Denmark, more than 25 per cent of the population is overweight.

When Farrow imagines the ideal future, he sees a new kind of health ministry: one that seamlessly integrates health issues and their deep connections with education and municipal planning. That way, Canadian cities could be designed to invigorate the public into taking a rigorous walk; and schoolchildren could be educated about the benefits of regular exercise and healthy eating.



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About Farrow Partnership Architects Inc.

Farrow Partnership Architects (FPA) is a world leader in planning, architecture and design of places that uplift the spirit while advancing clients’ strategic goals. The firm has delivered diverse projects across North America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Drawing on roots established over 50 years ago, FPA’s practice areas include: health care, research, post-secondary education, hospitality, institutional, multi-residential, seniors’ living, urban design, master planning, interior design and knowledge development. 

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