The Tuning Tunnel

Photo of existing tunnel condition

Photo of existing tunnel condition with gurneys            

The five major hospitals on University Avenue in downtown Toronto are connected by a network of underground tunnels used by staff, patients, visitors and emergency crews. But the tunnels are difficult to navigate and in a poor state, so the University Health Network held a competition to redesign the space. Our studio was shortlisted and paid to develop our concept, “The Tuning Tunnel.”     

                                        Photo of existing tunnel condition

“Our approach was rooted in overcoming the peculiar challenges of the site – a long narrow underground walkway. Light and sound play a critical role in establishing the atmospheric qualities of an otherwise lonely space.” — Tony Li

Staff and patients spend a lot of time in stressful hospital environments that are overloaded with sounds and bright lighting 24 hours a day, which can disrupt their circadian rhythms. We propose a calming environment that “tunes” the tunnel environment to people’s natural sleep/wake cycles. We needed to consider both form and function to support the tunnels’ use
Lighting temperature gradient of hospital wayfinding colours
Lighting temperature gradient of hospital wayfinding colours

Circadian lighting temperatures are derived from different times of day
Circadian lighting temperatures AT different times of day

Axonometric drawing showing the main tunnel with the colour gradient from blue to red between hospitals and an inset image of the wayfinding signage

FUNCTION: We added natural rubber flooring over the uneven terrazzo to improve patient comfort and transportation times. Rubber will also reduce the sound of footfalls echoing down the hallway, making it easier for patients and staff to communicate.

A series of perforated wall panels hung on one side of the tunnel further diffuses sound at ear level. The wall panels would be fabricated off-site and hung with a simple cleat-based system to reduce construction time, dust production and fumes from adhesives.

Photo of a long straight trail lined with trees and with dappled sunlight on the path

FORM: It isn’t possible to get natural light into the deep tunnels, so we’ve simulated the movement and patterns of light found in nature.

Photo of a hospital room with changing circadian lighting

A study by Rigshospitalet in Denmark showed circadian lighting has a positive effect on depression and tiredness in hospitalized patients.

Photo of colour temperature from 1000 to 10000 kelvin

The sun’s movement is tracked through circadian lighting – artificial lighting that adjusts in brightness and colour temperature throughout the day, from sunrise to sunset, then shifts to a constant golden glow with no blue tones through the night.
Institutional lighting is typically overhead; our lighting is designed to come from one side of the tunnel, like sunlight streaming through a window. The pattern on the wall panels creates the dappled shadows of a tree canopy, and this light is programmed to sweep across the floor as the sun rises and sets.

Black and white photo of light through a forest Photo of Light Through a Forest
Image trace of the sunlight voids in the photo Image Trace of the Sunlight Voids in the Photo
Sketch of voids translated into circular perforations Voids are Translated into Circular Perforations
Sketch of the perforation panel adjusted for acoustics and existing air vents Pattern is Adjusted for Acoustics and Existing Air Vents

“Studies using circadian lighting in hospitals in Copenhagen and California have found that tuning lighting to mimic the daytime/nighttime cycle may have a positive effect on the health, alertness and mood of staff and patients.”

— Tony Li

Client: University Health Network
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Date: 2019
Team: Helena Grdadolnik, Tony Li, and Elaine Chau
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