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Design Team

Tay Kheng Soon
Chung Meng Ker
Tan Kok Hiang
Simon Cundy

Design Data

Client: Public Works Department
Hospital Planning Consultant: McConnell Smith & Johnson, Australia
Main Contractor: Ssangyong Engineering & Construction Co Ltd
Structural Engineer: Public Works Department
M & E Engineer: Public Works Department
Quantity Surveyor: Public Works DepartmentSite Area: 4.8 ha
Site Coverage: 56.3 %
Plot Ratio: 1 : 2.23
Gross Floor Area: 107,033.54 sq m


In 1988, the practice won a competition for the redevelopment of the old Kandang Kerbau Hospital in Singapore. The project has a chequered history. The original plan was to demolish the old hospital and to build a replacement Maternity Hospital on the same site. Subsequently, a decision was made to add a Children's Hospital. Then, in a surprising turn of events, the competition jury's verdict was overturned and the commission was given to the Public Works Department (PWD). At Tay Kheng Soon's request, Mr S Dhanabalan, the Minister for National Development, intervened and a compromise was worked out whereby the design work would be done by Akitek Tenggara and the hospital design consultants McConnell Smith and Johnson, with the Public Works Department (PWD) as Principal Co-ordinator carrying out the post-contract administration.

In the design of the hospital, the practice was in its element. The project was fraught with morphological problems derived from site limitations, density of floor space to be accommodated and height constraints.

There was an extensive site selection process once it was decided that the hospital could not be located in the grounds of the existing hospital where it was originally planned to be. With the addition of a children's hospital to the overall brief, a new site had to be found. Numerous preliminary spatial studies had to be undertaken to exhaust the possible sites. Eventually the client settled for a 4.8 ha. site, close to its original location, at the junction of Kampong Java Road and Bukit Timah Road.

Settling the brief onto the site presented another challenge. A height limitation of 8 storeys for the ward blocks imposed a restriction on floor heights to 4.2m which made the detailed design and co-ordination of interior planning onerous. These challenges obviously called for a novel approach. Akitek Tenggara, the architectural design consultants for the project, took the lead in the generation of the Master Plan, in consultation with McConnell Smith and Johnson (MSJ), the hospital consultants. The PWD as project co-ordinator played a significant part in liaising with the end-users and the client.

Though they had not designed a hospital previously, Akitek Tenggara's grounding in morphological studies enabled them to zoom in and out between micro and macro design issues to find the optimum geometry for the layout, taking a fresh view but with the constant support of expert consultants. The architect's morphological expertise was further demonstrated in the decision to implement the race-track plan form for the wards. Its inherently large perimeter length allows for better lighting and ventilation compared to, say, a triangular ward-plan configuration favoured by some hospital planners. Morphological understanding is believed by Akitek Tenggara to be the central requirement in archi-tecture for through its mastery, all the other variables and contingencies can be arrayed.

The decision to cluster the support services with the diagnostic and operating thea-tres in the centre of the overall plan-form was an important strategic decision around which all the other planning issues subsequently revolved. The elevator cores emanating from this central mass is able to efficiently connect the two halves of the hospital.

The simplicity and legibility of the plan form stems from this decision. The centrality of the plan arrangements led to the arrangement of the ward blocks in relationship to the core, allowing each a separate identity. The proximity of the children's and women's ward blocks permitted a series of sky bridges to span between the blocks, adding functional connectivity for hospital personnel.

Urban design considerations are not normally present at this stage of a hospital design process, which essentially involves hospital specialists and departmental heads, unless the site in question is vested with guidelines already established by the city planners. In this case, no such guidelines existed prior to the initiation of the design process on the site. Akitek Tenggara exercised its own urban design considerations in relation to the context. These suggested a pulling back of the building masses away from the traffic junctions around the site to create legible nodal spaces at the road traffic junctions and to reduce the impact of building mass when viewed from perimeter approaches.

Accommodating the specialist consultation rooms and dispensary and other admi-nistrative rooms suggested a series of large depth floor plates. These were composed logically into a compact 4-storey podium. The multitude of rooms was organised around a primary circulatory, top-lit corridor system. An important architectural decision was made to taper the tiered podium edges. This was also suggested by urban design considerations. It is also intended to sweep the viewer's eye upwards from the surrounding green space, to achieve a gentle merging of the building with the landscape. The incorporation of taut-edged pre-cast concrete shading blades supported by an elegant concrete bracketing system articulated the tiered design in a visual dialogue with the metal shading devices and window system of the ward blocks above.

The circular ends of the ward blocks were both an urban design consideration and an expressive architectural device to create an aesthetic of line and edge with continuity around the block. It was also inherited from the original competition-winning design. The recessing of the lower floors at the end of the blocks allowed their articulation by soaring columns which act as a vertically linking element between the podium and the towers.

In terms of the visitor and patient sequence of entry, the centralised individual elevator cores which are spaced apart on the axis of the building mass, naturally result in the location of the main lobby and its logical bifurcation into the two separate lobbies for the women's and children's hospitals. Legibility was the prime concern. MSJ's idea of separating ambulant and non-ambulant patients was put to good effect in the upper and lower level lobbies. Ambulant patients use the upper and non-ambulant the lower lobby.

An entrance water feature, visible from both lobbies, provided general visual transparency of one level to the other and avoided any confusion. The hospital was eventually completed in 1997 and despite the separation of project responsiblities, the clarity of the design by Akitek Tenggara has been realised. The project takes the notion of Line, Edge and Shade to a new level of sophistication. The façade is designed as a sun-breaker system using lightweight metal louvres and maintenance gangways. The effect is of a skeletal line and edge aesthetic
in contrast to the main building structure. In addition to serving a functional purpose, the horizontal louvres and baffles are visually exhilarating.

"Architecture therefore has arrived at a nexus where it no longer just 'commodity firmness and delight' that is important. Architecture has become instrumental again. At last architecture has a clear cultural purpose!"

- Tay Kheng Soon



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cross section


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section through podium

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lourve details

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Text by Robert Powell


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