The newly built Du Noon Community Health Centre by Martin Kruger Associates proposes a new architectural typology for community health care facilities that draws on urban design principles.
While access to health care services is ensconced in the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution, access to good architecture is not.
The South African public health care system is under constant pressure to meet the demand for quality service within the allocated budget. This means designers are pressured to reduce design and construction costs while working with tight construction schedules and yet need to achieve the kind of quality spaces that actively contribute to improving patients’ health and well-being and creating a safe, quality work environment for care workers.
Throw in the tricky dynamics of a three-tier government, as well as working with both the Department of Health as well as the Department of Transport and Public Works, and designing a health care facility starts looking like doing open heart surgery with a spoon. But a spate of recently completed clinics and hospitals, including the Mitchells Plain Hospital by Magqwaka Associates Architects in a joint-venture with Munnik Visser Architects and the Hermanus Community Day Centre by Gallagher Lourens Architects, reveal nothing of this potential bureaucratic messiness.
Another example is the recently opened Du Noon Community Health Centre (CHC) by architect and urbanist Martin Kruger, who was responsible for award-winning projects such as the BP Head Quarters located in the V&A Waterfront and the Faculty of Law Building at the University of Pretoria.
The brief for the Du Noon CHC called for a new hybrid facility of nearly 4000m2, which would combine a Day Clinic with 24-hour Emergency facility and Midwife Obstetrics unit.
“This was the first time the department wanted to combine these two functions and we needed to develop a new prototype for it,” explains architect Martin Kruger. “When you have all of these components that need to work together, it almost becomes like a Rubik’s cube that you have to solve. We explored multiple options in an iterative process which eventually led to the final design concept.”
As an antidote to the popular typology of a central space with wings that lead out from it, or as he refers to it, “the airplane plan”, Kruger reveals his urbanist foundations with a densified plan that is essentially a city block dissected by internal streets and punctuated by a series of squares and courtyards.
This compact, building-as-a-city spatial arrangement also proved to be economic, in terms of construction costs and services, as well as efficient, in terms of circulation for users and staff.
Located on a site across from the Killarney Race Track along the Potsdam Road in Killarney Gardens in Cape Town, a low-rise industrial area adjacent to Du Noon, the architectural language of the building draws on the industrial vocabulary of the context with concrete frame construction, high lightweight steel roofs, chimney stacks and galvanised steel sections.
Despite the size of the building and its industrial language, the scale is thoroughly human. A generous public forecourt, with a permeable edge along Potsdam Road, receives visitors that approach the building via public transport and on foot. The forecourt, defined by a series of low concrete ‘werfmure’ that double-up as seating and the bright red entrance façade of the one-storey building, serves as an outdoor gathering and waiting area for visitors as well as generous public space for the various communities in the area.
From here, the internal street leads to the pre-waiting courtyard, then the help desk, internal waiting areas and the main hall. The records room, pharmacy, clubroom and Chronic Disease Unit are located directly adjacent to the hall. To the west of the hall the Day Clinic, including an Oral Health Unit, Infectious Disease Unit, Chronic Disease Unit, Rehabilitation and Woman & Child Unit, are located along the internal ‘street’; to the east is the Emergency Unit, Radiology and the Midwife Obstetrics Unit. This spatial arrangement allows for the two streets to operate independently while sharing
The skilful use of natural light, inspired by masters such as Alvaro Siza and Rafael Moneo, through clerestory windows and internal courtyards makes for airy, bright spaces. The required mechanical ventilation is augmented by natural ventilation through small openable sections that displace hot air through the natural stack effect.
The design team opted to use the traditional Red Cross associated with health care as a motif throughout, right down to the planting scheme for the courtyards done by OVP Associates Landscape Architects.
In a similar fashion to his work at the Graça Machel Hall student residence at the University of Cape Town, Kruger employs the use of super graphics and colour themes for ease of wayfinding regardless of users’ literacy levels. They developed a system of pictograms which were applied as Perspex cut-outs.
The overall impression is one of a health care facility that is accessible, navigable and truly public, which underscores the critical importance good architecture plays in not only delivering basic services, but doing so in a life and city-enhancing way.
021 418 0342
By ALMA VIVIERS
Architects: Martin Kruger Architects & Urban Designers
Structural & Civil Engineers: HatchGoba
Electrical & Mechanical Engineers, Fire Engineer, Medical Gas, Wet Services: WSP
Department of Transport, Public Works & Health: Ulrike Kuschke & Martin Schulenberg
Landscape Architects: OVP
Quantity Surveyor: Meyer Summers gill
Client: Dept. Transport & Public Works