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News archive - July 2013

Alder Hey: The new Children’s Health Park

Alder Hey: The new Children’s Health Park

When the Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust decided to revamp the world-famous paediatric hospital in Liverpool, the project team wanted to create a flagship building like no other in the world.

“A lot of clients say that and we thought it was a bit of a cliché, but the more we persevered through the brief, the more we realised they were actually serious,” says Benedict Zucchi from BDP, the architects behind the £250m project.

He was given the tough task of creating a development that would set a precedent in terms of healthcare design as well as creating an entirely new concept of a healing environment for sick children.

The result is the Children’s Health Park, not so much a hospital as a facility that will be an integral part of each child’s treatment and recovery.

The existing Alder Hey hospital is next to Springfield Park and the premise of the scheme was to rebuild the hospital from scratch on part of this site and then, once the new buildings were opened, to knock down the old hospital and turn the site back into replacement parkland.

An inspirational brief

Zucchi explains: “It was a very inspirational brief. A ‘hospital within a park’ was the starting point and it aimed to capitalise on the social and therapeutic benefits of the park, with the hospital flowing literally from the landscape.”

BDP won the contract as a part of the Acorn PFI consortium along with Laing O’Rourke, John Laing and Interserve.

“We started work about three years ago as part of the bidding process and setting a precedent was written into the brief,” Zucchi said. “They wanted a hospital like no other and what will be created is a nationally and internationally-renowned hospital providing specialist services to a huge population in North Western Europe.”

Taking the design brief, and driven by the Children’s Health Park vision, Zucchi and his team wanted to create a hospital that made the most of the landscape in which it lies.

“In the existing hospital children are mostly in multi-bay wards with small windows that face mainly East and West, resulting in too much light and heat. In the new buildings our priority was for all rooms to have really good park views and to create continuity between the two elements, so the buildings feel like they are part of the landscape.”

They then looked at the facilities needed in the building, a task that led to one of the most unique elements of the project.

“We sat down with the trust and looked at which services needed to be grouped together, including the relationships between different departments needing to be adjacent or above or below each other. What we then realised was that by doing this the ground floor would be much smaller than the first floor.

“If we had adopted a conventional approach we could not have had the first floor more than twice the size of the ground floor. What we had ended up with was a building that was irregular in shape. In the elevations we have cut away the park so that it looks as though the buildings rise up from the park itself.”

In terms of materials, in order to ensure the hospital does appear to have been borne out of the ground, they will use Laing O’Rourke’s exclusive pre-fabricated concrete panels that will be made to simulate the red stone rock on which Liverpool is built.

Zucchi said: “In addition we have made green roofs so that part of the gardens and park are usable and accessible on most of the levels. This was particularly good for the ecology and biodiversity of the site.

“In all parts of the hospital you have really good views over the park and 75% of the children will now stay in single rooms with large windows facing South and North, creating a much more therapeutic environment than they currently have.”

Bringing the outside in

The new hospital is also much more compact, though taller than the existing one, reaching to four and five storeys compared to the existing hospital, which is mainly two or three floors. However, there will now be one single atrium from which all departments are accessible with two entrances, one straight out of the park.

Another innovation of the design is the car park. The brief set out a need for 1,200 spaces and the architects have taken inspiration from large shopping centres to create a car park that is plugged into the side of the main atrium with access directly into the main hospital building. From the outside, the car park is camouflaged by the building.

The development reached financial close in March and work has already begun on site. The new hospital is expected to open in summer 2015, just a few months after the hospital celebrates its 100th anniversary.

David Powell, programme director at Alder Hey, said: “We did want something different for the new Alder Hey. We did not want it to feel like a normal hospital, which can be a bit threatening and intimidating for children. We wanted a hospital that was reassuring and would be a peaceful place to be.

“We ran a number of exercises asking the children what they wanted and a lot of them drew pictures of nature and gardens. They drew a lot based on the outside world.

“The design creates an environment which is a nice place to be. The windows are large and look out onto the park. The two elements connect really well and we think it will be a place where children will feel comfortable and not an institution.”

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