McMaster Health Sciences Centre (MHSC) demonstrates a turning point in medical history in Canada. This radical experiment signaled a shift from the hospital as a place to treat patients with illnesses, towards supporting research, teaching and patient care in an interdisciplinary, integrated manner.
Architect Eberhard Zeidler’s preoccupation with flexibility based on modularity distinguishes MHSC. Based on a hierarchy of primary, permanent, fixed elements and secondary, impermanent, replaceable elements; Zeidler expanded the notion of interstitial space to accommodate change.
Named the ‘Servo System,’ it compromised steel-framed towers supporting clear-span trusses. This basic planning module of 743m2 per floor is column-free, offering flexibility of internal layout. The towers accommodate mechanical/electrical services and exit stairs. The interstitial spaces provided by the trusses provide a walk-through ceiling space above each of the four inhabited floors.
The basic structural module of four towers was extended in either direction (seven modules by six modules) to create a permanent, large-scale matrix. The building encloses over 163,000m2. Zeidler designed light wells within the matrix, and a major ‘esplanade’ in which the campus penetrates the built form. The mechanical towers rise one-storey above the top floor, anticipating a fifth floor expansion. There is a service level below grade and underground parking.
The vertical service towers are characterized by their transparency: the steel structure and transparent glazing revealing the brightly coloured mechanical equipment within. The remainder of the building is clad in smooth, pre-cast concrete panels with integrated windows of uniform size.
Inside the massive floor plates, circulation is based on a ring corridor. The four elevator towers are colour-coded to assist wayfinding. Commissioned artwork, skylights and textured, concrete block walls were designed to orient the users.
MHSC is a significant work of Eberhard Zeidler, an Officer of the Order of Canada. The building had an international influence on health-care architecture. MHSC is associated with the megastructure movement and the emergence of high-tech architecture. In 2014, the building garnered a Landmark Designation award by the Ontario Association of Architects.
Now ‘McMaster University Medical Centre,’ the megastructure continues to perform a major role in the provision of healthcare services for Hamilton and the surrounding region of central-west Ontario.