George Brown College Waterfront Campus - Reinventing Healthcare Education

It was Winston Churchill who observed that ‘We shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us.” Rarely do we see that assertion so clearly played out as in the new George Brown College Waterfront Health Sciences Campus in Toronto.


Opened in September 2012, the philosophical basis for the ‘shaping’ of this seven storey, 47,000m2 integrated vertical campus can be traced directly back to the findings of the 2002 Romanow Commission.

Entitled ‘Building on Values: The Future of Healthcare in Canada’ , the Commission’s report included among its recommendations that, to improve both the efficiency of service, and the quality of outcomes,  the delivery of healthcare services should move to a team-based, patient-centered approach.

With respect to healthcare education, Romanow wrote, “If health care providers are expected to work together and share expertise in a team environment, it makes sense that their education and training should prepare them for this type of working arrangement.”

The result of this directive is that the healthcare system in Ontario has begun to move from isolated medical functions to an integrated delivery model of care. Recognizing that changing the way health providers are educated and trained is key to achieving this systemic change.

George Brown College required that the design of the new campus manifest the concept of Inter-Professional Education [IPE]. Gaining momentum in many service sectors, IPE refers to the approach where students from two or more professions, learn about, from and with each other to enable effective collaboration, and so improve both service and outcomes.

Accordingly the program for the new facility consolidates George Brown’s schools of Dental Health, Health and Wellness, and Health Services Management, which were previously dispersed across three of the College’s Toronto campuses. The new Waterfront Campus can accommodate 3,500 students and 500 faculty involved in a variety of in-house, community and outreach programs.

The program organization informs the architectural expression of the building. The composition is anchored on the west side by a multi-storey rectangular volume containing classrooms, practice laboratories and academic offices.
To the east, a three-storey, highly transparent glass podium has retail, food services, clinics, student amenity space and an auditorium. A two-storey Learning Commons cantilevers above the podium at the south-east corner. An exterior terrace on the roof of the Learning Commons offers an inviting atmosphere with wood decking, raised planters, green roof landscape and views of Lake Ontario. On the north-east corner, the trapezoidal profiles of two lecture theatres break free of the facade to float above the podium.

Entering the building, one is immediately struck by the scale and variety of the facility’s public spaces which occupy almost 40% of the program area. The multi-storey lobby is large enough to host exhibitions and events, and connect other building users to the action below. It also connects to the cafeteria, both spilling out to the waterfront walkway.

Throughout the building, the public spaces are designed to promote informal interaction and collaboration, most notably the ‘learning landscapes’ which take the form of broad flights of stepped seating, and the narrow gallery on the second floor with its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Ontario.

Academic spaces encourage the same kind of collaboration. The Learning Commons comprises a variety of spaces, from individual silent study to small meeting rooms with A/V monitors, which allow groups of students to work collaboratively. Lecture theatres are designed with two rows of seats on each tier, enabling those in the first row to turn round and work with those behind; and the ‘regular’ classrooms have no defined orientation, with smart boards on each wall and easily reconfigurable seating.

The campus also houses a number of state-of-the-art ‘living laboratories’, including a Simulation Practice Centre, and Wellness, Applied Research and Visionary Education [WAVE] - a group of clinics where students are able to develop new models of care and practice skills learned in the classroom. These include a fully fitted apartment in which students can practice homecare skills - including cooking healthy meals under the supervision of the Nutrition department; and a fully equipped hospital ward complete with remotely activated patient simulators, capable of responding to practicing students at the bedside.

The design prioritizes the essential principles of sustainability, inclusive of maximum exposure to fresh air, natural light, and views; access to public transit and alternative modes of transportation; and a commitment to building for the long term. Among other initiatives, the project provides over 300 bicycle stalls, a 30% reduction in water usage, and 40% energy savings from ASHRAE 90.1. Green roofs and a rain water cistern optimize stormwater discharge, and over 90% of construction waste was diverted from landfill. There is even a custom ceramic frit pattern on the glazing of the podium which diverts migratory birds from flying into it.

George Brown prepares graduates for a more collaborative form of healthcare practice, where all professions work effectively and efficiently with each other.  Beyond the familiar quantitative measures of sustainability, this project may make an even more significant contribution - that of supporting a more sustainable healthcare system for all Canadians.


  • Energy intensity [building and process energy] = 123 kWh/m2/year
    Energy reduction relative to reference building under MNEBC = 42%
    Potable water consumption from municipal sources = 1628 L/occupant/year
    Potable water consumption savings relative to model building = 45%
    Reclaimed and recycled materials content by value = 17.7%
    Regional materials [800km radius] by value = 33.2%
    Construction materials diverted from landfill = 83.7%


  • Client George Brown College
    Architects Stantec Architecture l Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, Architects in Joint Venture
    Engineers [structural, mechanical, electrical, civil, sustainability, energy] Stantec Consulting Inc.
    Cost consultant Hanscomb
    Building Code Leber | Rubes
    Landscape Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg Landscape Architects
    Geostructural Engineer Sherwood Geostructural Engineers
    Marine Engineer  SHAL Consulting Engineers
    Geotechnical and Environmental Engineer
    Trow Associates
    Project Manager Terry Comeau, Nerys Rau
    Construction Manager EllisDon
    Photos Tom Arban Photography, Maris Mezulis, Richard Johnson

Jim Taggart, FRAIC is Editor of SABMag

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