In 1962, the Sechelt Indian Band, the government of the indigenous Sechelt First Nations people, donated 11 acres of land on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast for a new facility for St. Mary’s Hospital. When it came time to expand the 78,700-square-foot hospital five decades later, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and its design team—Perkins+Will and Farrow Partnership Architects—consulted the Sechelt Indian Band on the design. “We began with the idea of creating a sense of meaningfulness for the people who would be using the building, including the First Nations people,” says Tye Farrow, Intl. Assoc. AIA, senior partner of Farrow Partnership Architects.

Inspiration came from the First Nations tradition of cedar bent-boxes, used to hold sacred items—appropriate for a hospital that hosts momentous events, from births to deaths to healing. “They take a piece of cedar and steam it and bend it into a wooden chest,” says Don Jenion, senior project manager for Vancouver Coastal Health. “So the cast-in-place concrete structure of the building gives the illusion of a bent box.” The curved corners echo the bending of the cedar, and the exterior pattern of brown tones gives the building an organic feel.

The 62,000-square-foot addition made room for larger emergency and radiology departments, more medical and surgical beds, and more patient beds. All patient beds are in single-occupancy rooms—a first for Vancouver Coastal Health, and a proven method for minimizing the transmission of infections between patients.

Just as the design embodies the values of the Sechelt First Nations people, it also reflects British Columbia’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The province mandates that all new public facilities be constructed to meet LEED Gold standards at a minimum. That requirement dovetailed with Vancouver Coastal Health’s desire to save operating costs and led to the goal of making the addition a net-zero energy building, so that even though it would nearly double the size of the hospital, the overall electricity consumption would stay the same.

Daylighting was a key part of meeting the energy goals as well as providing a healing experience. All patient rooms as well as clinical and office areas are placed around the perimeter, and all have operable windows. Atypically, even the emergency department has skylights and clerestory windows, the intention being that natural light will increase staff effectiveness and alertness. For the patient rooms, motorized blinds on the southeast and southwest façades automatically move to block the sun’s light and heat in the warmer months, but patients can override the system to control the amount of daylight in their space.

A high-performance envelope, lighting equipped with occupancy sensors, and exhaust air recovery ventilation all help reduce energy consumption. A geo-exchange system with 125 boreholes, each 250 feet deep, provides heating and cooling for the building, distributed through radiant slabs. A 19-kilowatt photovoltaic array provides electricity. Patients look out over a green roof, which, along with white roofs, reduces solar heat gain.

The addition opened in March. The final phase of the project, slated for completion in 2014, comprises a new lobby and renovations to the existing hospital. By renovating the existing building and retrofitting its heating system, the project aims to go beyond carbon neutrality and become carbon negative. “Energy modeling showed a 22 percent [reduction] in carbon emissions and a 1 percent overall reduction in energy consumption,” says Kathy Wardle, Perkins+Will’s director of research. Operational data will be tracked to determine how well the final result meets the energy model’s projections.

The new hospital models the intersection of sustainable design and healing. “With sustainable design, we often talk about embedded energy,” Farrow says. “We’re very interested in the idea of embedded health—how can a building help support healing? We have the ability to enhance not only the physical body through sustainable design features, but also the health of the mind.”