Designing a centre with nature at its core

During construction of Alberta’s newest cancer centre, thoughtful consideration was put into every design element to ensure that this building was not only a place for world-class cancer care, but also a structure that was, in itself, a world-class design.

One particularly unique feature is the cantilevers that extends from each end of the tower providing spectacular views from patient rooms and treatment spaces. A cantilever is a rigid object that is fixed at one end and extends out over empty space. Examples include airplane wings, shelves, some bridges, and now, the Arthur Child.

“Creating a strong connection to nature and the centre’s central courtyard and shaping the building to celebrate that relationship was very important to us,” says Diego Morettin, Design Partner from Dialog, referring to a unique feature of the Arthur JE Child Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Calgary. “The cantilevers signify the gateway to the campus and frames the entrance, as if almost to say, this is a different place.”

The lower five podium levels surround the courtyard on all sides, to provide garden areas that can be accessed by patient, staff and community. The cantilevered tower is L shaped providing unobstructed views of the mountains and downtown. It is clad in colourful aluminum panels that change in hue and colour as the quality of light changes through the seasons.

“The design responds to the beautiful foothills landscape and Calgary’s urban context and speaks to the relationship between nature and building in a strong way,” adds Morettin.

Adrian Lao, Coordinating Professional and Architect of Record from Dialog, commented on the technical challenge of achieving the cantilever, “From a distance, the cantilever extends a beautiful, welcoming gesture. However, creating this gesture was not easy.”

“Building it without visible support from the ground required a precise approach with the concrete superstructure unfolding in two steps—first to build the main tower, followed by adding cantilever pieces at the ends once the main tower structure was stable. This sequence of construction was an integral part of the detailed technical discussions by the design build integrated team, to achieve success.

During construction, a significant moment occurred when the supports for the concrete formwork of the cantilevered portion was removed. This also allowed the cladding to be applied seamlessly without delaying the process. The risk involved temporarily removing supports from the cantilever, resulting in only a half-millimeter shift—a notable achievement.

A viable strategy for future maintenance and renovations was critical due to the cantilever's height above the ground floor. To address this, a mini-floor layer was designed under the finished floor, allowing easy access to plumbing for fixture repairs and replacements from the occupied floor, without suspending workers in mid-air or needing to access the cantilevered floor from below.

While the anticipation continues to grow to the opening day of this world-class centre, those who have been part of this design and construction will forever be grateful for having the opportunity to work on this building – a building that will provide loved ones, friends, and colleagues with much needed cancer care well into the future.

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