UK-based architecture firms Sheppard Robson and John Cooper Architecture (JCA) collaborated in 2009 to win an international design competition for the new Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg. The facility will employ 150 paediatric doctors and 450 nurses.
Sheppard Robson and JCA, responsible for the concept design of the hospital, were joined by local architects GAPP and Ruben Reddy. GAPP Architects & Urban Designers were responsible for the development of the facade and public spaces within the hospital, whilst Ruben Reddy Architects were the local lead and site architects, with a scope that included the design development of the clinical and operational facilities of the building and overall coordination.
The team drew together specialist design skills with local experience and expertise to deliver the vision for the new hospital, which centred on creating a modern state-of-the-art paediatric tertiary facility located on the University of the Witwatersrand’s education campus in Parktown, Johannesburg – a central position allowing it to service the needs of the region’s populations.
The design is a 200-bed, eight-theatre facility, with advanced diagnostics and future plans for expansion to 300 beds. It will operate in partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School as a primary base, and will engage with all medical training facilities across the region.
The hospital includes specialist facilities for the treatment of: cardiovascular, neurological, haematological, oncological, endocrine, metabolic and renal diseases. The project also includes facilities for paediatric surgery, whilst supporting paediatric academic research and training.
A key element of the brief was to construct a hospital that provides high-quality child healthcare in a natural healing environment. This focus on connecting to nature would go on to shape the design of the project and be a starting point to creating a welcoming, safe environment for both children and parents.
The competition-winning design broke away from housing all departments in a single ‘box’ building, which often leads to deep floorplates where the patients and staff have little contact with the outside world. After extensive consultation, it was clear that long, institutional and windowless corridors should be avoided in favour of a plan that connected to its natural surroundings.
Sheppard Robson and JCA’s concept revolved around creating six wings, each with its own specialism. These were connected by a ‘street’ that ran through the centre of the project. This ‘street’ was vital for connectivity, with three main junctions that enable efficient flow of people. The separation of floors of floors avoided cross-overs and assisted wayfinding.
By breaking down the mass of the building into six elements, the design has a domestic, human scale that reassuring and familiar to children. Further moving away from a feeling of institutional design, each wing has subtle twists of the common design language to give it a distinct identity; for example, the colour of the solar shading walls – formed from horizontal rails – changes for each department, picking up on vibrant, local colours.
This composition increased the length of the perimeter of the building and created shallow floorplates. This meant more natural light could flood into the building, placing many treatment spaces next to windows which made the most of the views out over the surrounding landscape as well into the internal courtyards created in between the hospital's wings.
Spaces that invite contemplation, the five internal therapeutic courtyards and the three exterior therapy gardens were designed for occupational therapy and children’s play. The landscape is predominantly indigenous, using plant species found in the nearby Melville Koppies Nature Reserve. The external spaces were created with healing in mind, and the design encourages patients to use the outdoor spaces as part of their recovery.
The wards are positioned on the second floors of the wings to maximise views out, whilst more heavily serviced, critical care facilities are located in more private spaces on the lower levels.
Commenting on the opening of the building, Sheppard Robson said: “Having worked on the project for the last seven years, it’s particular satisfying to see the important and remarkable facility open its doors
“The design creates a close connection between nature and the healing process, with the architectural language of the project a beacon that shines out over the city from its prominent location.”
The palette of materials is characterised by orange brick which makes reference to the region’s red clay soil. The pronounced ends of each wing rise to a sweeping peak, designed to give the building a distinct architectural form that makes the hospital identifiable from a distance and animates it when viewed close-up.
Sheppard Robson’s interior design group, ID: SR, also worked on the project, helping create a clear and coherent wayfinding solution and designing the internal finishes for shared spaces, including the corridor, reception and family rooms.
The wayfinding was designed in collaboration with local graphic designers Black Bird Design and incorporated a number of artworks completed by children at project workshops. Rather than being text-based, much of the wayfinding uses colour and symbols to ease navigation for children and the different nationalities that will use the hospital.