Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem marked the official opening of its new state-of-the art Helmsley Cancer Center this week.
The cancer center — which houses all of Shaare Zedek’s medical, radiotherapy, counseling, spiritual and palliative oncological services under one roof — was designed by award-winning Canadian architect Tye Farrow. Farrow is known internationally for his striking salutogenic, or health-creating, structures reflecting an application of neuroscience to architecture. Farrow’s firm is responsible for the masterplan for Shaare Zedeks’ overall future expansion.
President Isaac Herzog, along with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Health Minister Moshe Arbel and other dignitaries, were on hand Thursday for the opening.
“Today we no longer whisper about, and certainly no longer are ashamed [of cancer]. On the contrary, today we place cancer and the advanced ways to fight it at the center of medical practice and research,” Herzog told the invited crowd of officials and donors.
The 12,000-square-meter (130,000-square-foot) center, directed by pulmonologist-oncologist Prof. Nir Peled, covers six floors filled with the latest technologies, including an advanced CT suite and four linear accelerators for radiation therapy.
The approximately $100 million building is named for the Helmsley Charitable Trust, which also supported the purchase of many key pieces of equipment. Keren Adar provided funding for the radiotherapy institute.
Ground was broken for the center in the spring of 2017. It opened unofficially and began receiving patients in November 2022. A new adjacent 800-spot underground parking complex opened in June 2021.
Dr. Benjamin Corn, chair of radiation oncology at Shaare Zedek and a professor of oncology at The Hebrew University, told The Times of Israel that it makes sense for both patients and medical staff to have everything concentrated in one building.
“In this building, we can do all the oncologic consultations. We can deliver the medications in our daycare unit, and we can do almost all the radiotherapy on an outpatient basis,” he said.
Previously, Shaare Zedek’s oncological patients were referred to another hospital in Jerusalem or to a hospital in the center of the country for radiation therapy. The Helmsley Center provides outpatient care only. Oncological surgery is still being performed in the main Shaare Zedek building.
At the opening event, Farrow explained to The Times of Israel that the building’s abstract design reflects a butterfly as a metaphor for the ideas of transformation, beauty and fragility. It also relates to the old tale of a person with a butterfly between their closed hands who approaches a sage.
“Is the butterfly dead or alive?” the person asks.
The sage tells them that the answer is all in their hands.
“In other words, it’s about their frame of mind,” Farrow said.
Farrow, author of the upcoming book, “Constructing Health” from the University of Toronto Press, explained that his designs go beyond sustainability to address human health — physically and emotionally. Influenced by the theory of environmental enrichment and the importance of person-to-place relationships, he applies what he learned from a neuroscience degree to his architectural work.
The result is the use of a lot of curved wood and natural light in the Helmsley Cancer Center. The building, with its serene and unimposing vibe, feels nothing like a typical hospital.
“A person uses their senses and has a range of bodily emotions when they enter a space. You want them to feel a sense of hope and generosity, and that they are in good hands,” Farrow said.
Zvi Rubinstein and Shai Ofer, the Israeli architects who worked closely with Farrow in constructing the cancer center, said they learned a great deal from how Farrow pushes the limits of design and thinks in non-conventional ways.
“This is the way we should be designing and building medical buildings,” Ofer said.
Radiation therapy specialist Corn noted how unusual it is that natural light descends all the way from the center’s large skylight to the radiation area on the bottom floor. The garden around which the entire building is centered is also located on the bottom floor.
As Corn explained it, radiation bunkers are generally artificially lit and approximate “dungeons,” because they must be shielded from other areas inside and outside the building for safety reasons.
He noted that the center will also be adding music, videos and tactile experiences to the radiotherapy area to reduce patients’ anxiety.
Shaare Zedek general director Prof. Ofer Merin told The Times of Israel that the new center has had a major influence on everyone involved.
“This is a different philosophy in the way we approach our patients. It’s a holistic approach. It’s giving hope and emotional serenity and making a difference for doctors, nurses, and patients alike,” he said.
Acknowledging that no one wants to have cancer, Corn said that once you have it you have to cope. The new center enables medical staff to help patients do this in a more integrated and hopeful way.
“[Patients] have to undergo change, and that can have positive effects…If we truly attend to patients and provide the care that they crave, we can help them turn this — with a little bit of resilience on their part — into an experience that also allows for growth and development,” he said.