The former Huzhou Central Hospital was a high-rise facility hemmed in by similar buildings in the city’s traditional downtown. The setup created a cramped experience for staff, patients, and their families, says hospital director Ma Jianming.
When it came time to replace the 1940s facility, hospital officials purposely chose a site about three miles away with a distinctly different vibe: a 42-acre campus on the southern banks of Tai Lake.
While the buildings on the site take up 2.6 million square feet, the plot also has roughly 975,000 square feet of green space to create a garden-style hospital, Jianming says. “By taking that approach, those who visit will feel relaxed, peaceful, and full of hope,” Jianming says.
Hospital building plans
Hired to turn that vision into a reality was Perkins&Will (Shanghai), which served as lead architect on the project. It was completed in October 2020.
The firm’s overall plan comprises four buildings that sit on both sides of a curving east/west axis. Lining the north side of that axis is the main hospital, which consists of a four-story diagnosis/treatment base topped by two 11-story patient towers, each with 600 beds.
An adjoining five-story VIP outpatient clinic and nine-story VIP hospital tower with 300 beds complete the hospital complex. On the axis’ southern side are a pair of interconnected outpatient clinics and a standalone building for staff offices and meeting facilities.
In approaching the building architecture, designers utilized shapes inspired by the medical nature of the facility’s services, says Jason Hsun, senior associate at Perkins&Will and design leader on the project.
For example, the patient towers are designed to jut out of the hospital podium to resemble an X chromosome, while the outpatient and administrative structures have rectangular shapes and rounded sides to evoke single-cell creatures such as a paramecium.
Maximizing green space
Furthermore, at the “nucleus,” or center, of each of the buildings is an outdoor courtyard that runs from ground level to the rooftop with glass-lined walls that bring natural light, ventilation, and greenery into the public waiting areas and staff corridors.
Similar courtyards were also incorporated into the base of the main hospital. “The idea is to bring the outside in, because that’s energizing for those in such spaces,” Hsun says.
Access to nature was also provided by the hospital’s abundant green spaces. The northern end of the site features a pedestrian-only zone that’s bordered by natural wetlands, lush landscaping, and a gentle river that runs around the perimeter of the site.
“That all adds up to a calm and peaceful setting for patients and visitors,” says Runchao Xu, associate principal/technical director at Perkins&Will.
Interior design features
The main pedestrian entrance to the hospital cluster is a four-story glass pavilion that’s supported by four bell-shaped columns, clerestory windows, and an interior palette of natural wood tones to create a welcoming vibe. Just past the entrance is a decompression space that houses a “Tree of Life” sculpture.
“In times of heightened anxiety, the tree symbolizes hope and serves to uplift a patient’s spirits, while also representing the fundamental human connection with nature,” says Xu.
The sculptural tree also serves as a central anchor for a four-story main corridor with a glass skylight that runs lengthwise through the building’s base. On each floor, that open space is flanked with corridors that lead to services such as pharmacy, transfusion, and imaging.
“Because this hospital is so large, we felt creating a central ‘medical street’ with extensive signage would best reflect its user-friendly design DNA,” says Perkins&Will’s Hsun.
Breaking design norms
Such design features, including the central atriums and skylights, are more common in commercial retail projects in China as placemaking and to activate public gathering spaces, Hsun notes. By implementing them at Huzhou Central Hospital, he says, the project team was able to break through the country’s conventional healthcare design approach.
“I always consider it a compliment when patients tell me that the spaces don’t feel like they’re in a hospital,” he says.
Matthew Hall is a freelance writer/editor based in Cincinnati. He can be reached at [email protected].