Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital
RUBEN REDDY ARCHITECTS: Architect
SHEPPARD ROBSON INTERNATIONAL: Architect
JOHN COOPER ARCHITECTURE: Architect
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Award of Merit Citation
The Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital was a long-held dream by South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. Up until now, there has only been one specialised hospital for children in South Africa, and that is in Cape Town. The provision of this kind of specialised hospital is even scarcer on the rest of the African continent.
From the early inception of this idea, it was stated that the facility had to be a benchmark that would set the standard for many years. Not only did it have to adhere to the highest standards of care and service, it also had to be the best architecturally. For this to be achieved, an architectural competition was organised and this consortium of architects was part of the winning team. The site itself is on the Parktown Campus of the University of the Witwatersrand, in close proximity to the well-regarded and established Academic Hospital and Medical School. The Children's Hospital has also been placed in terms of the urban design framework adopted by the University some time ago.
Being in hospital can be an unsettling experience for patients. For children, this experience could be amplified many times over; increased by the medical procedures, possibly also the fear-inducing complexity of the medical equipment and the sheer scale that is required to enable the efficiency that numbers can bring.
Architecturally, this is a very complex problem to address. By their very nature, contemporary hospitals are highly serviced buildings that need to conform to very demanding standards. The hospital environment is experienced largely at its immediate 1:1 scale. The smaller details become crucial in both the life of the patient and the medical staff. The issue of scale and orientation is equally important on the level of the whole building. Its spatial organisation also needs to be understood with an intuitive logic and without, if possible, a constant reference to wayfinding signage.
To address these requirements, the architects designed a building that is mindful of its urban context and one that ensures constant and easy contact between the inside and outside. This emphasis on the inside/outside relationship enables a sense of orientation, of where one is in this large building, while it also assists one's sense of emotional well being in the hospital environment. To facilitate this sense of orientation even more, the architects have created one main central corridor enabling the users to navigate the building in an easy manner. This corridor is connected to a series of courtyards. Each of these accessible courtyards has been designed differently to emphasise a specific and a memorable place. Most of the medical wards for the children have been placed on the perimeter of the building. This enables a constant and direct visual relationship to the outside. The highly serviced spaces with their obvious inward focus, such as operating theatres, have been situated where this relationship to the outside is not required. Thus, crucial and highly specialised functions are mostly out of the mind and awareness of the average visitor to the building. Much attention has been given to make the internal and external world of the hospital as child-friendly as possible. A child's attention could be held by the graphically created fantasy world of fictional characters created to reassure the children in the, possibly, unsettling environment. The attention to detail in this lovingly created 'world' is highly impressive and commendable.
The architects succeeded in managing and designing the intense complexities of the physical requirements of the hospital in such a manner that its logic is clear and that it could be understood intuitively. The emotional and physical requirements of its most important users, namely the young and vulnerable patients, have been addressed with equal care and obvious delight. The building is filled with daylight and obvious joy that could act as a counterfoil to the life and death seriousness of its purpose. The professionalism and dedication of the architects is fundamental to the creation of this hospital that will set standards for a long time to come.
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