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Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care, St. Thomas, ON Canada

January 2015
EDAC Advocate Firm Project
Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care - Entrance to inpatient units. Shai Gil Photograhpy Inc.

Parkin architects

Firm's role on the project: To challenge the aesthetic typically associated with that of a forensic detention facility, while focusing on supporting the client’s healing process. 

EBD Goal

To create a calm, comfortable, non-institutional healing environment that supports clinicians in their implementation of the Psychosocial Rehabilitation (PSR) model of care which encourages patients to take active ownership of their rehabilitation journey, while providing a safe and secure environment for all users.  This was achieved through reimagining and redefining the detention aesthetic typically associated with Forensic Mental Health Care facilities.


The strict regulations governing the design of Forensics Mental Health facilities result in the use of very institutional design solutions, hardware, and accessories.  The aesthetic of these facilities carries with it a stigma that follows the patient. Our challenge was to employ creative design solutions and select or design only those products, which would normalize the treatment environment rather than demoralize or stigmatize the patient.


Daylight and views were integral to the design.  Large expanses of glass and views of the adjacent heritage landscape give a sense of openness and transparency, de-institutionalizing and de-stigmatizing the facility from the occupant and observer's perspectives.

Destigmatization of the patient environment is furthered through integrating security systems within the architecture.  Spaces were designed to flow seamlessly through each conceptual PSR zone of the building, house to neighborhood to downtown, encouraging patients to progress in their healing journey, while simultaneously providing staff with extended views along corridors and into adjacent building zones.  Located at the center of the cruciform inpatient unit, the care station has uninterrupted views along each corridor.  The care station design bears more resemblance to a hotel concierge than a mental health care desk.  The open concept design and low transaction desktop encourage patients to interact with staff regularly, making it easier for staff to monitor patient temperament.

To assist patients in understanding their environment and redcue stress, simple and clear building organization and circulation systems were adopted.  Significant research was undertaken to support the interior design layout and strategy.  A color palette was overlaid on the building's plan to complement the organization and wayfinding strategies.  Blue/cool colors were used throughout the north inpatient building and red/warm colors used in the south.

Patients were afforded the dignity and privacy of a single en-suite bedroom.  The washroom wall is canted to provide staff with a view of the entire bedroom from the doorway reducing risk of assault.  Single patient bedrooms have led to a significant reduction in patient agitation.  Room accessories were researched and reviewed to ensure the safest and least institutional products were selected.  Where suitable products were not available, an alternate was custom designed.  For example, a residential style wooden handrail with continuous aluminum extrusion and sloped sides was designed for use in patient bedrooms and constructed and tested to ensure it is anti-ligature.


A post occupancy evaluation of the facility is currently being conducted.