Remedial Garden

Harry Wei (website)
University of Waterloo
Design Studio
Brief: Center for wheelchair rehabilitation
Faculty: Andrew Levitt (website)


There is a healing quality to nature that has been known for centuries. This is reached by meditating on a mountain, taking the time to smell the roses, lying in a field of wildflowers, or strolling by a meandering stream. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, recognized this powerful attribute in his humbling statement,

“Nature cures, not the physician.” -Hippocrates
The Remedial Garden is a rehabilitation centre for wheelchair users. It is a place that brings people experiencing similar struggles together, usually individuals who have recently been injured in an accident. Together, they form a nurturing community where they learn to cope with the changes in their bodies and lives, in order to become as independent as possible.

The complex is conceived as a walled garden. In contrast to the conventional hospital, the project taps into the power of nature, and uses it as a part of the healing process. At the same time, the embracing quality of the walled garden insulates those who are insecure about the new physical changes they are experiencing, and provides a place of refuge during these difficult times of transition.

The Remedial Garden is a horizontal complex. The program is organized on one barrier-free level such that wheelchair users can easily move from one place to another. The program is divided into four clusters: Rest, Equip, Participate and Admin/BofH. These clusters define the four corners, and manifest themselves as capsules within the building, each encasing a jewel of ‘medicinal landscape’. Knitting the capsules together is a porous lattice that permeates the interstitial spaces and conceptually ties the entire complex together. Additionally, this interstitial lattice mediates the interior and exterior thresholds by providing a shaded overhead enclosure for visitors from the moment one enters the garden.

A wall wraps around the building on four sides, providing it with protection from its exposed location. Courtyards are formed between the building and the wall. These help insulate the building with vegetation that filters the noise and air pollution of its surroundings whilst providing a leafy backdrop for interior views.

The connection between indoor and outdoor space was a primary architectural concern. As a visitor, one enters the complex from Water Street through a large courtyard flanking the entire southern façade of the building, displaying the aesthetic of a garden of celestial beauty. The entry courtyard is sealed by walls on all sides and an overhead lattice system, which holds up a massive web of Wisteria and Bougainvillea. This hanging vegetation forms a ceiling that is blooming with varying pastel colours and casts dappled shadows on the ground below, creating an aromatic and intimate outdoor lobby space. From the moment of arrival at the complex’s first exterior threshold to the moment of entering the building, a series of ramps elevates visitors above the street level. This experience is similar to the ritual of ascending the stairs of a temple, it heightens one’s anticipation of arrival in a new space, all the while being covered by a natural chandelier of colour and beauty. During this moment of liminality, visitors are removed from their worldly problems.

As it transitions between the interior and exterior, the post and beam structure of the inner lobby meets the outdoor lattice at the entrance. Almost like handing off a baton, it draws the visitors seamlessly into the building. Upon entering the main lobby, visitors are greeted by an encased courtyard that introduces the building to its first dose of medicinal landscape, giving visitors a sense of what is to come. From there, occupants proceed along the cross shaped hallway until they reach their designated capsule. Within each of the four capsules, there is a courtyard that serves as the medicinal landscape for its respective program by exploiting the healing qualities of nature and allowing daylight to penetrate the interior. Upon arrival, visitors realize that the capsules vary considerably on the interior. One is clad entirely in wood, while another is penetrated by an array of bamboo shoots. All the houses, however, are oriented entirely inward with their roofs caving downward to heighten the focus on their respective courtyards.

The overall sustainability strategy for the project is designed to adhere to the principles of passive solar design, while at the same time allowing the interiors to be fully lit with natural light.

To minimize southern exposure, the entire southern façade is clad with timber panels with carefully cut incisions to provide views and minimal solar penetration. Vegetation within the courtyards is positioned to shade the southern facade from being overly exposed. The garden also filters out noise and pollution and naturally absorbs CO2 emissions.

The roof above the cruciform circulation zone is designed as a mechanism to control sunlight. It allows abundant quantities of natural light to enter without the accompanying ultraviolet damage and direct heat gain. It consists of a multilayered sandwich of the following solar control elements:
– A top layer of fixed diffusing metal louvers.
– A middle layer of a sealed glass envelope used to keep out wind, rain and sun.
– A bottom layer of a translucent ceiling of perforated metal used to diffuse the light to an even glow.

The multilayered roof plays the elegant role of a knit fabric lacing the complex together. This construction also allows less direct sunlight to penetrate the interior, reducing cooling loads and ultraviolet damage, while at the same time lessening the electric lighting loads during the day.

The roof of the individual capsules is sloped towards each building’s courtyard for two reasons. Firstly, during winter times, as the Sun’s angle of incidence lowers, it allows more light to penetrate the interiors through the courtyards, as a way of passively heating the interior spaces. Secondly, this slope allows the roofs to perform as funnels by directing rainwater towards the courtyards where the underground water retention system can store and reuse the water for irrigating the garden, and grey water usage within the building.

Related Post

Leave a Reply