The Making of a Therapeutic Landscape

by ConnectLA

October 28, 2021 (edited November 14, 2023)

VANCOUVER, BC – Connect Landscape Architecture has been working on the landscape design for the New St. Paul’s Hospital to create a therapeutic environment that fosters the health and well-being of patients and staff and focuses on healing the 7.5 ha site in Vancouver’s False Creek Flats.

The Coast Salish termed the False Creek Flats Skwa-chàys – meaning “hole-in-bottom” and refers to the soft, vulnerable sediment-filled wetland that once occupied that land. The mudflats were connected to a system of underground springs that the Indigenous peoples believed to be gateways to the spirit world and regarded the area as a sacred place of transformation.

In 1916 the City of Vancouver initiated an infill project that brought soil excavated from the Grandview Cut to fill in the Flats to make way for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Pavement and sewer pipes strangled the numerous salmon streams that crisscrossed the land, further extinguishing the homes and breeding grounds of extensive terrestrial and aquatic plant and animal life. The original ancient forest was quickly clear-cut and transformed into an industrial landscape. This urbanization buried a culturally and ecologically important place.

The Connect design team is working with the concept of weaving as a metaphor to transform, reconnect, and heal this landscape. The Team is inspired by ecosystems and natural cues of texture, colour, pattern, and form. St. Paul’s Hospital will repair broken linkages and serve as a vital health node for the city. Healing corridors, traditional medicine gardens and spiritual gardens, a therapy roof, green roofs, and courtyards designed for stimulation and care are woven within the site and building to provide a seamless healing environment.

Connect is applying an urban rewilding strategy that envisions a more symbiotic relationship to what might have been on the site before the development of Vancouver. An interconnected Wellness Walk weaves together the hospital campus through 4 thematic landscape typologies: Historic Shoreline & Indigenous Culture, Civic St Paul’s, Vancouver Industrial and Community Health and Wellness. Imagine reestablished groves of Western Hemlocks, Firs, and Western Red Cedars, with understory Vine Maples and forest floor carpets of Salal. Elevated boardwalks will float above a piece of wetland weaving through a forest canopy.

By layering in atrium-shaded forest floor gardens, accessible therapeutic roof deck gardens, urban agriculture, and extensive green roofs, the site will be green space positive and allow patients, staff, and visitors to stay connected to nature. The documented and evidence-based design of the effects of nature and landscape goes well beyond the therapeutic benefits of stimulation, animation, and intrigue. A resilient landscape strategy, ethnobotanical plantings, an integrated building, and a site program further create an environment for people and nature.

While we cannot go back in time to change the mistakes made to land, we have tools and strategies, such as urban rewilding, to bring nature back into the city. Nature in a therapeutic setting restores our spirits and revitalizes our relationships with others, families, and communities.


Connect LA is a full-service landscape architecture firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Over 35 years of award-winning success make us a recognized leader in the design and transformation of healthy, vibrant communities. Our diverse portfolio in planning, design and creation of livable places for people is exemplified by our passion for landscape, love for our craft, and through our vision – to connect people to nature through meaningful design.


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WRITTEN by Jennifer Pritchard
ART WORK by Mindi Wang and Erin Boa-Brown


PCL Constructors 

HDR Architecture 

Stantec Architecture 


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