Re-envisioning the healthcare environment at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre

October 4, 2021


The recent space transformation project at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (PMCC) in Toronto is a powerful example of how the physical environment can prioritize the patient experience and support the healing process. When designing this 40,666 square-foot ground floor renovation, Siamak Hariri, Founding Partner of Hariri Pontarini Architects (HPA), envisioned a beautiful, uplifting space that could “empower patients and their families through the use of light, landscape, art, and materials." We took our cue from the architectural vision in the design of the wayfinding and donor recognition program, using colours, graphics, and forms to achieve a soothing, restorative atmosphere.

The goal for PMCC was to re-envision what the patient care environment can be. In contrast to the cold, institutional feel common to many healthcare facilities, HPA drew inspiration from hospitality experiences, which offer visitors a comfortable, home-away-from home experience.

The Murray Street entrance is proud and confident, announcing itself with big, bold letters. Still, the entrance is warm and welcoming with its bronze tones and soft illumination. This sense of pride and specialness continues throughout the interior of the Centre, with a golden, softly lit feature portrait of Princess Margaret, who presided over the opening of the hospital at its Sherbourne Street location in 1958 and again in 1998, when the hospital re-opened at its current location on University Avenue.

Cancer patients and their families undergo immense stress, often accompanied by worry for the future. The PMCC’s every detail was designed to reassure, and make patients feel expertly cared for by a world-class treatment centre. Comfortable, elegant furnishings populate waiting areas to support an atmosphere of care and dignity. These carefully planned details communicate attentiveness to the individual.

Nature themes and biophilic features are known to promote healing; therefore, gentle, rounded forms and natural materials such as wood and stone are used in the interior design. A soft colour palette of green and cream tones add to the nature-themed, relaxing atmosphere throughout the interior. We continued this theme in the environmental graphics, with green leaf motifs featured on privacy panels. A pattern of smaller leaf graphics adapted from the UHN logo appear on windows and films, subtly linking the facility to the larger UHN network.

The Centre’s accessible, open concept architectural layout was designed to foster intuitive wayfinding and orientation. Accordingly, we were careful not to over sign the environment in an effort to keep the space serene and clutter-free.

Donor contributions are crucial to PMCC and greatly appreciated by staff, patients, their families, and the wider community. A recognition wall close to the Pharmacy features a listing of donor names and a message of thanks, while major contributors are recognized on panels encircling the staircase leading from the ground floor to the level below.

More than tests and treatments, the PMCC amenities address the needs of patients and their families holistically and encourage them to feel at home. These include lounges, a patient education theatre, a spiritual centre, a Magic Castle childcare facility, and an information library.

Princess Margaret sees over 1,000 patients every day and delivers diagnostic, treatment, and follow-up care to close to 200,000 patients and their families every year. Find out more about the PMCC here.

Photography: Adrian Ozimek and Doublespace