Sheppard Robson's domestic-scale hospital puts children at ease

Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital by Sheppard Robson. Photos Tristan McLaren

JOHANNESBURG – The official opening of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital is the realisation of a dream envisioned by the project’s namesake – and former president of South Africa – who spoke in 2005 of the need to improve the limited facilities available to treat seriously ill children who need specialised care. Following ten years of fundraising by the NMCH Trust, the 200-bed hospital was completed in December 2016 and is expected to begin receiving patients this month. British architect Sheppard Robson fronted the project in collaboration with London-based John Cooper Architecture and local firms GAPP and Ruben Reddy.

The hospital’s young patients are central to the architects’ design. The facility is split into six smaller wards – each practicing its own specialism – which divides what would otherwise be a large, brick box into more manageable sections. The pavilions are linked through a central walkway which overlooks the building’s many courtyards. Internally, colour is used as a wayfinding strategy so that the children feel that they are able to comfortably navigate the hospital space and stay within the colour-coded areas that are familiar to them.

The patient wards are located around the edges of each floor, with narrow plans ensuring that maximum natural light is able to brighten the interior. The link between the inside and the outdoors is a significant factor of the project’s design, which emphasises the healing power of nature. Nine courtyards contribute to the greenery surrounding the site and promote relaxation as part of the recuperation process, with as much contact as possible with the outside. The connection between the domestic scale of the building and the garden-like landscaping creates a welcoming and safe environment that puts children at ease.

With only four other hospitals to help some 450 million children, the continent’s need for the new facility is undeniable. Nelson Mandela was an activist for human rights and, in particular, promoted his vision of better healthcare for the children of Africa. As it opens its wards to give a better quality of life to children in need, the new hospital in Johannesburg is a fitting monument to his legacy.

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