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Toronto’s Bridgepoint Hospital, Feb. 9, 2013.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The historic Don Jail used to be a place of darkness, virtually a fortress, cut off from the rest of the city by the Don River. It was the site of several hangings – but it's now a place of healing, refurbished and connected by a glass bridge to the new Bridgepoint Hospital.

The building is designed to encourage recovery – including floor-to-ceiling glass walls, outdoor terraces and communal dining spaces. Using a jail as a foundation for this was no easy task, said Greg Colucci, a principal with Diamond Schmitt, one of four architectural teams that worked on Bridgepoint. The goal was to shed the "negative aura and painful memories" of the space.

Marian Walsh, president and CEO of Bridgepoint, said the Don Jail was retained as a focal point of the new project because it was a place that was intended to lead penal reform, in the same way that Bridgepoint intends to lead in complex chronic care. "It just seemed like a natural fit to maintain the heritage of the site. In a way, we wanted to heal the site, and turn it into hopeful place," Ms. Walsh said.

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Bridgepoint Health Centre officially opens its doors in June. With a budget of $1.2-billion, it is being held up as a world-leading rehab centre. Surrounded by green space in the heart of Riverdale Park and the Don Valley, the grounds are an open invitation for the community to wander its gardens and explore its bike paths.The jail will now function as the administration offices and teaching arm of the hospital, and for the first time it will be open for public tours.

This isn't the first redevelopment in the city that has used architecture to heal. As with the bold redevelopment of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on Queen St. W., Bridgepoint hired a design team that would weave together cutting-edge facilities with parks, gardens and paths.

"The extensive use of glass lets the patients see out and the community see in," Mr. Colucci said. "Hospitals can be scary, scary places, and this building was designed – full of light – to take away patient anxiety and the anxiety a community often feels towards hospitals in general."

Patients will be moving into Bridgepoint in April. In the next few months, both the old hospital and jail will be torn down, making way for more gardens and a tree-lined boulevard leading to the entrance. "Residents are telling us they're excited about having access to the parklands," Ms. Walsh said. "And we hope the patients feel they're right in the hum of things. That they've not been left behind."

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