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Healing by Design

One of our most exciting current projects, the Victorian Heart Hospital is a joint venture with Conrad Gargett. Currently in construction, VHH is scheduled for completion in November 2022.

A hospital is complex like a human body: with circulation (people movement), a spine (organisational structure) and an external skin (façade). It also benefits from a gravitational centre, a heart (as a gathering place). A hospital can be designed so that all these elements are working together sympathetically, in an organic and intuitive way, to provide a healing environment that is calming, legible and personable.

This was our starting point for the new Victorian Heart Hospital. Led by the Victorian Health Building Authority, project partners Monash Health and Monash University and delivered by John Holland, it will become Australia’s first dedicated heart hospital. As a standalone hospital located within Monash University’s Clayton campus, the project has a clear agenda – the overlap of learning, teaching and research with clinical activities to foster a remarkable degree of collaboration.

The patients, clinicians, staff, researchers, students, carers, and visitors within will make this hospital feel like a small, humming city. For some it will be their place of work for many years, for others it will be just a fleeting visit. To bring this community, constantly in flux, together and provide a focal point for orientation, a circular garden is carved into the building and provides a counterpoint to the rectilinear planning elsewhere. The public spaces of the hospital follow its radial geometry. They embrace the garden.

The introduction of radial forms is a reminder of the healing nature of gardens and landscape. The first example of a Botanic Garden was a circular ‘parterre’ (or formal garden on one level) in Padua, Italy, that was intended for medicinal purposes. For the Victorian Heart Hospital, the garden is recuperative in other ways, as a place of rest, respite or a daily walk.

The functionality of any hospital must allow the working day’s activities to be seamless, its organisation to be clear and legible and the flexibility for future adjustments to be made when needed. Less tangible, but equally important, are its spatial, material, and atmospheric qualities. These aspects of the design define the hospital’s character and will strongly influence the mindset of its occupants (are they calm or anxious, for example) and ultimately the type of healing environment that is being created.

The circular garden is just one example of the less tangible. Another is the perforated screen that encompasses the lower podium levels of the Victorian Heart Hospital. It is made of weathering steel, its colour will mature rapidly from a mid-red to a deeper burnt umber. The screen reduces heat load (particularly along its western flank), minimises glare and still permits views out due to the density of perforation. By diffusing natural daylight it will soften shadows and calm the interior.

The weathering steel is folded vertically in a profile that increases its spanning capacity. It also bears an uncanny resemblance to something more tangible - an electrocardiogram readout. The folds find a natural rhythm, a pattern to soothe the eye that can draw together a consultation suite, an operating theatre or a research laboratory into a coherent whole.

Note: The Victorian Heart Hospital has been designed collaboratively by John Wardle Architects and Conrad Gargett. 

Words by Stefan Mee.

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