In the provision of healthcare, the building container – both in design and execution, is a critical determining factor. Accommodating people in a highly vulnerable state is an enormous challenge for architects. Specifically, the ability to combine architecture and art with medical science, logistics, technical equipment and building technology is of great importance when it comes to environments that meet the clinical and caring needs of patients, relatives, medical staff and researchers.
Lifehouse represents the realisation of the late Professor Chris O Brien’s vision for the creation of an integrated cancer facility on the Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital campus. The facility aims to redefine the cancer patient experience and become a centre of excellence. This vision is about many things – a genuine patient focused facility, broad based holistic treatment in a world-class clinical environment with integrated research programmes. Parallel non-clinical therapies and facilities such as ‘The Living Room’ provide a unique patient experience. The facility serves both private and public patients – and functions as a NFP institution set on a public hospital campus.
Lifehouse forms a strong urban statement. Acknowledging the RPA campus rather than the street, the building will become the focus of a future research precinct planned for the hospital West Campus. The building and main entrance orientate to the main hospital campus and provide an activated yet secure edge to the public domain. Conceptually the building is experienced as enclosing but not introverted. The glazed façades filter and screen but do not block light – the vertical slot articulating the street façade provides glimpses of internal activity and circulation.
The brief demanded a significant footprint and the mass is carefully articulated both vertically and horizontally to reduce impact. The glazed façades reflect rather than imitate the unique heritage context whilst providing a filtered natural light to the interior, redefining the nature of conventional clinical spaces.
The street edge is activated by a series of recessed landscape courts, which provide light and amenity to the clinical floor below grade and aspect to upper levels.
The facility stitches into the campus by providing a clinical linkage between the RPA hospital and the existing Radiation Oncology Centre. The vertical order reflects internal functionality - with ambulatory facilities on lower levels, acute and support zones in the mid section and in-patient accommodation at roof level, setback to provide rooftop landscape and wonderful district views.
Internal planning is focused around a central atrium that rises through the full height of the building. A light filled almost spiritual space defined by four functional planning zones and serving as the focus for all vertical circulation – the “village pump” – a place of coincidental user interaction. Moving vertically through this space provides subtle glimpses into the facility. This unique transparency, together with the quality of the filtered, patterned natural light permeating all spaces – public, patient and clinical, defines the user experience.
The drivers for this design have always centred on the patient experience – from the point of arrival, through to the experience of moving through the facility. Waiting areas and corridors are celebrated – views and aspect showcased, the quality of the filtered light defined as the central concept. Light is uplifting.
The building design will facilitate research and development, promoting interaction and knowledge sharing. Internal spaces have been designed to promote informal discussions between staff and researchers and maximize integration of staff and the public to produce a ‘Healthy Building’.
The integration of landscape – most notably related to in-patient accommodation facilitates the concept of the healing garden – a recognized evidence based design initiative. The location and aspect of the patient rooms is truly unique for healthcare in Australia.
The building has a rational service chassis with clearly defined and separated vertical service and infrastructure cores. The interstitial plant room is located centrally within the vertical stacking of the building, thereby reducing service runs and freeing up the roof spaces for valuable patient accommodation.
Services specifications will facilitate evolving technologies, as the building is not fully commissioned at opening. Planned later commissioning will include Hybrid Operating Rooms and the ICU, whilst shell space is provided for future flexibility.
The building ICT specification is ambitious, exceeding clinical functionality and focusing on appropriate patient access – efficiency, certainty and need.
The planning and architectural design of Lifehouse recognises life cycle costing of materials and sustainability. The building has achieved a 4 star Greenstar rating from the GBCA (Green Building Council of Australia).
In addition, the building generates a portion of its own electricity and heat via a natural gas-fired tri-generation plant. The plant generates energy to heat the boilers, creates its own electricity, and also runs the chillers throughout the building’s day-to day-peak energy cycle, providing total energy savings of approximately 20% compared to buildings of similar size and function. The plant also serves as a standby backup system for essential systems should the power grid go down.
The facility benefits from high performance façades shaded by fritted glass, horizontal louvers and or by mesh screening reducing glare and direct solar gains, allowing for greater glass dimensions and transparency connecting patients to the outdoors through influx of natural light and access to external views, whilst maintaining efficiency of mechanical plant and realistic life cycle outcomes.
Water storage tanks for rainwater harvesting have been incorporated to irrigate the rooftop healing gardens and lower level courtyards. The building incorporates water efficient fixtures and fittings throughout as well as energy efficient light fittings.
From both a clinical and environmental perspective materials were selected with low-level VOC ratings. Timber and fabric products were selected from sustainable sources.
The realization of the ambitious brief within the Federal and private funding provided represented a significant challenge. It demanded a proactive approach from the delivery team and the resulting technical and clinical amenity belies the reality of the budget.
The vision for Lifehouse was to become Sydney’s premier Integrated Cancer Centre – a centre of excellence. We provided an intelligent architectural response to the complex spaces and facilities, meeting all functional and technological conditions for effective patient care.