Fateema Sayani tours the Carlington Community Health Centre as part of a series on new and upcoming projects that combine residential units with specialized resources.
A work crew is installing hewed logs outside the Carlington Community Centre entryway. They form long benches around foliage and groupings of rocks. Next year, there will be a rubber tricycle track added to the area, forming a loop around the garden. It’s easy to imagine the block teeming with life.
Just behind the garden is a former school building, which has been refurbished as a community hub. It now offers programs for preschoolers, as well as a prayer room and a community kitchen. That building links to the impressive new 42-unit Ottawa Community Housing complex for seniors, which includes a medical clinic on the ground floor. Together, these spaces make up the Carlington Hub.
You may have passed the complex on Merivale Road near Coldrey. Its exterior siding of rich blue stands out on the busy thoroughfare. The building has a contemporary feel with a nice nod to the past thanks to the former school building’s facade. It fills the length of the block with various walkways guiding people to entryways and to the plaza area that provides a space for small outdoor gatherings: concerts, pop-ups, teas, and picnics to encourage social inclusion.
“The pandemic has been really hard on seniors,” says Cameron MacLeod, executive director of the Carlington Community Health Centre. “People have been feeling isolated and we’re encouraging them to come out through on-site and virtual activities.”
In addition to the events, the touches of greenery, whimsical bike stands, and light landscaping give the place a sense of cohesion.
“Clients enjoy coming in to see the space,” says Jillian Premachuk, a former intake counsellor at the centre. “They really feel at home when they come here.”
Premachuk and other staff members were key in shaping the design plan. Their feedback went to Darryl Hood and Marc Mainville from CSV Architects, who developed many iterations of the layout of the clinic, based on staff feedback, to maximize functionality and flow. The wayfinding colour scheme is unique and playful. Even the examination rooms reveal an elevated sensitivity to patients’ comfort: natural light pours in from windows that have been placed carefully to ensure privacy.
“What we’re most proud of is that everything is under one roof,” says MacLeod. “The goal is to eliminate the barriers to health care and resources because if you can’t access the care, you don’t receive the care. We’re trying to practice collaboratively, with internal referrals and a multidisciplinary team. That’s great for patients.”
With so many services in one place, those with mobility issues face fewer barriers. It also provides a sense of unity.
“I can walk down the hall and greet my clients,” Premachuk says. “Now, more than ever, it’s apparent how important it is to have these community spaces. It’s the familiar faces that keep that community connection going.”
The importance of community connections drove the design. There’s a common area with laundry machines on each floor of the seniors’ residence, and each lounge has its own feel. On one level, residents have established a library. On another, there is a row of succulents along the window ledge and an in-progress puzzle on a card table. The south-facing rooftop patio has vegetable plots; residents can take courses in container gardening.
At the end of each floor, there is a space for scooters. These “parking lots” are near multiple electrical outlets, which are tied to emergency power so no one is ever out of a charge. There are touches of wood throughout the building to add warmth. The stairwells are wide and bright with natural light, which serves as a gentle nudge to use them instead of elevators, where mobility permits. (Of the 42 units, 12 are barrier-free with lower countertops, roll-in showers, and space for a wheelchair.) These details were informed by the International Well Building Standard that aims to maximize health and well-being through design.
The building also targets Passive House Standards to reduce operating costs and environmental impact. Those efforts led to a Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association award in 2020 for Green Building of the Year for Ottawa Community Housing and CSV Architects. Increased insulation, a high-performance building envelope, and triple-glazed windows are some of the building’s sustainable features. Individual electricity meters give residents a sense of their consumption. These factors help to conserve energy and provide buzz of another kind.
“The building gives us new energy to keep going,” Premachuk says. “Covid has been hard for our clients and our staff. This space helps our clients feel welcomed. It says, ‘This space is for you, and you see that sense of awe in clients.”