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THE NEW FACE OF HEALTHCARE ARCHITECTURE

THE NEW FACE OF HEALTHCARE ARCHITECTURE

April 2016

AGi’s Hisham A. Alsager Cardiac Center in Kuwait redefines the notion healthcare architecture

The words that probably describe AGi’s latest healthcare project in Kuwait best are ‘comforting and welcoming – quite the opposite of what is usually associated with hospitals.

The fact that medical buildings are usually perceived as spaces with negative connotations is what inspired the Spanish-Kuwaiti practice to create a design which changes this perception and builds a positive space, “one that is able to act as a hub for social activity, rather than just a medical centre.”

When designing the Hisham A. Alsager Cardiac Center, an outpatient cardiac and rehab research centre, Nasser Abulhasan and Joaquin Perez-Goicoechea, Principals of AGi architects, considered two main concepts: the relationship with the doctors and staff involved in the facilities and secondly, the relationship with the patients.

Speaking about the doctors and staff, Joaquin Perez-Goicoechea comments: “Looking at how committed these people are to their jobs we felt that we needed to give them a space in which they are represented, in which they feel comfortable and with which they can identify themselves.”

When it comes to the patients, the architects wanted to give them a space which greets them in a comforting way. “Usually when people come to a hospital they are in a state of anxiety which is why we wanted to create a space where they feel comfortable; a social space. Social not in the sense of entertainment but in the sense that it has a social representation where they can interact with other patients in a more casual way,” Perez-Goicoechea explains.

Exterior

The arrival process beings at the exterior, being the first connection point between the patient, medical centre and the environment. Instead of treating the general volume as a mere container of functions, AGi architects developed a proposal that is formally similar to one of social and cultural infrastructure. A sharp volume that contains two large red openings in the façade, these invite access to the building and suggest to the visitor what they will find inside, say the architects.

The building is composed of a concrete structure with stone cladding on the exterior. The same stone is used for the flooring and some of the walls of the public areas. “In order to ease maintenance we needed to have strong materials that withstand both harsh weather conditions and extensive usage of the facilities,” explains Perez-Goicoechea.

The heart atrium

The central space of the hospital is the most representative space, it is the heart of the building and has been designed to resemble a human heart. AGi have created a three storeys height red coloured space onto which the waiting areas and circulations open to. Several courtyards provide the space with natural light to experience the spacious architecture, in contrast with smaller rooms that are usually found in this kind of buildings.

“Patients move to and from this central space (the source of light and life), as red blood cells do, and are received in the clinics and different departments to be put back in the circulatory system once re-oxygenated.”

Clinics & rehabilitation areas

Clinics are grouped in three levels at the south part of the building and are disposed as small specialised self-managed cells (managed by one doctor and his team). “Each ‘cell’ is organised between courtyards, providing all rooms with natural light, ventilation, and privacy for each one. Patients and workers access to the clinics from different ways to improve circulatory efficiency.”

Specialised rehabilitation areas, research and administration services of the centre are strategically placed at the north of the building, which allow them to open up to the exterior along the Kuwait bay, providing great views of the sea and high quality light conditions.

Building for healthcare

The healthcare market across the GCC region is heavily undersupplied and offers room for growth in all aspects. For architects, the sector comes with a broad set of challenges which range from budgetary to design and operational challenges.

“The challenges are continuous in these types of projects,” says Nasser Abulhasan, adding that “as an office we always try to challenge the prescribed way of designing or operating.”

Perez-Goicoechea adds: “The number of stakeholders involved in such projects is huge, all of which have different interests and needs. Compromises have to be made between donors, doctors, and patients; at the end it’s this matrix which makes such projects a challenge.”

AGi is currently working on the design of a further two healthcare facilities in Kuwait. Abulhasan says: “As an office we enjoy working on complex projects. Healthcare is an area which we believe is underserved and unfortunately the design of these facilities is dictated by standards. We believe that these standards should be challenged to create something which is more architecturally appealing, culturally suitable and overall something that is resilient for a long time.”

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