McMaster University's downtown health campus is built to foster intimacy in a behemoth of space across from city hall. 

The building, future clinic and home for researchers, students and the city's department of public health, is a factory of "chance interactions," a space that's intended to create cross-pollination between students, researchers, front line medical staff and the city's public health team. 

'What we want to do is increasingly integrate the university, right with the downtown. But it's core business is the provision of care' - John Kelton, dean & VP, Faculty of Health Sciences

With a ribbon cutting ceremony for the $84.6-million facility penned in for May 15, the space could be seeing patients as soon as April.

"It's getting people in one location and seeing what develops out of that," said David Price, chair of the department of family medicine and the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. "That really was the impetus for doing this... It's those unintentional bump-in spots."

McMaster estimates 450 staff will move in, as with 110 public health employees. Some 15,000 city residents will be rostered as patients at the downtown family clinic, with an anticipated 50,000 "patient interactions" a year.

That adds to the fact that students will have an increasing presence in the building — to start, all first-year nursing students will use the building. Over the course of the year, 30 medical residents will have a four-month stint at the clinic, but the rest won't be far — all 80 Hamilton-based residents will spend at least one day a week at the facility, and all 200 residents in McMaster's medical school will get a minimum of six clinical days at the campus, exposing the entire program to the new downtown facility. 

Elizabeth Richardson, the city's medical officer of health, said by mixing city staff developing policy with the clinicians, they'll have a chance to see first hand what issues there are, and ensure the city and clinicians are delivering a consistent message.

"Having (public health staff) downstairs in the clinics … who are doing sexual health, immunization, tuberculosis, tobacco cessation, working side by side with the primary care folks is going to be a real opportunity to share clinical issues," Richardson said.

Moving on from 'brutalist' architecture

Chance interactions aside, the building itself is a maze of intimate waiting rooms and glass walled atriums.

"We are very aware that our city occasionally chooses brutalist architecture," said John Kelton, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences. "That's fine, but this building is purposely lots of glass, nothing square, just outs, copper cladding.

"We wanted to send a signal that this is a beautiful physical building."

On the main floor there is space for a coffee shop, pharmacy and garden that looks across towards city hall. A large wood staircase leads to the second floor, which has a lecture hall space with seating that tucks away into the wall and can fit 240 people at capacity.

A clinic on the third flood has space for an aquarium in the waiting room, with seating around the edge intended for kids to climb on, and people who use walkers to rest on.

Building will benefit both McMaster and downtown residents

The doctors will not have any offices, but have access to shared spaces and open meeting rooms.

"What we want to do is increasingly integrate the university, right with the downtown. But it's core business is the provision of care... While our students are learning here," Kelton said. "It's all of those things celebrated."

McMaster president Patrick Deane said the benefit for the school is in turn, a benefit for the city, too.

"This brings a major part of our educational mission into the downtown and it also does it in the very significant area of family medicine," Deane said. "What we can do here is not only bring our students into the downtown, but we can also have them engaged in a very practical way in improving the quality of life in the inner city of Hamilton."

"I think it will be great for the retainment of our students in the city after they graduate," Deane continued. "It's to me, the best possible next step in that progress we've been trying to build upon over the years, moving from just sort of having our employees working downtown, to bringing more students downtown, having students kind of discover this is their city, now, to actually have a very significant part of our educational mission downtown."