Mies-van-der-Rohe Award 2011, nomination
with Priebernig "P" ZTgmbh, Müller + Klinger, FCP ZT-GmbH
Klinikum Klagenfurt am Wörthersee – The Hospital as Park Hotel
Architektur Aktuell n° 366, p 106, September 2010, Text by Matthias Boeckl
Ever since the AKH (General Hospital) in Vienna Austria’s architecture business has had mixed experiences with hospital buildings of XL dimensions. However, over the past 20 years medium-sized projects have recovered a lot of lost terrain. The new Regional Hospital in Klagenfurt proves that even large-scale medical technology can no longer ignore the social and aesthetic planning criteria that are applied everywhere else.
Only a competition can help
In Austria the design of large hospitals has often proved to be an ill-fated undertaking. This complex task is generally linked to local politicians who are out of their depth and designers with little experience in this area. Combined with the enormous construction and operation costs of new buildings for several hundred beds, this situation means that a business/political scandal is often preprogrammed. Astonishingly, in Carinthia of all places things went very differently. Although on account of the emphatically easy-going and often foolhardy way in which public projects have been managed there in recent years, one might have expected a particularly risky project, precisely the opposite is the case. The large scale extension to the central hospital, which is the only one in a wide area around central Carinthia, is particularly successful in urban planning, medical, architectural and social terms. How did this happen? Initially the auspices were anything but favourable. As is so often the case with large public projects local cliques had a suitable “preliminary roject” up their sleeves which was laid out as a “string of pearls” type complex. The reservations – not confined to Carinthia – about large volumes (which are allegedly more economic than smaller units) in a town that has a pronounced small scale structure had led to this series of individual pavilions. After various political tussles in the background, an essentially reasonable decision was arrived at. A two-phase competition open to entries from throughout the EU was set up and a qualified jury appointed, in which the architects were more than just a fig-leaf: Peter Lorenz, Alfred Berger and Hans Obermoser are all well-known heavyweights in the Austrian /building scene. For its competition entry the well-regarded Viennese office, Fritsch, Chiari und Partner (FCP), which according to its own description places particular emphasis on providing “the best possible support for our client” and on “services in the areas of planning, structural and constructional design, project management, monitoring, structural and constructional examinations, general planning and research” invited the extremely successful Austrian-French architect Dietmar Feichtinger, the experienced hospital designers Müller & Klinger (with two partners Richard Klinger later founded the office Architects Collective), as well as Heinz Pribernig to form a planning consortium. They knew each other from the successful collaboration on the fine project for the Donau-Universität in Krems and from hospital projects they had carried out together.
ln the second stage of the competition alongside technical criteria it was ultimately the intelligent layout of the volumes that was decisive. In view of the enormous size of the programme of spaces and the small-scale structure of the hospital surrounding Dietmar Feichtinger wanted to keep his design “flat and simple”. He had already successfully achieved something similar in the Donau Universität in Krems. There the volumes were fitted into a comb-like structure which is clear, reasonably sized and allows low building heights. In Klagenfurt he went a step further and, using a new kind of orthogonal mesh structure that condenses around internal courtyards which decrease successively in size from north to south, he found a flexible and highly efficent model for organising a wide variety of different volumes. For, in addition to the patients wards, out-patient facilities, surgery areas and rooms for the administration also had to be housed in a manageable way and connected to the old buildings on the hospital site and with a large supplies and disposals building – all together this resulted in gross floor area of no less than 128,000 m². The subdivision of the complex into a building for the health-care centre and one for the surgical-medical centre seemed obvious, the articulation of the latter was a genuinely creative achievement. The guiding idea here was embedding the building in an extensive park and creating a kind of “hotel character” instead of the traditional, but oppressive hospital character. The space required for this became available after diverting the Glanbach stream, which had once cut right through the middle of the still undeveloped site. Today the stream describes a large arc that defines the northern site boundary. The intention is that the four three-storey comb wings (plus canopy roof at the main entrance that is the size of an entire wing) should gradually grow into the gentle riparian meadow landscape. A fifth wing can be added to the west. This concept met with the approval of the jury, which was for the most part confronted with highly condensed models, many of them consisting of a large plinth with a high-rise slab set on top of it.
Passerelles in the park
The most striking characteristics of the new complex are without doubt the “fingers” housing the patients wards which extend northwards from the spine of the surgery wing into the park. The overall structure, which is both compact and open, is rooted in a strong double slab with an east-west orientation: here the emergency department, the operating theatres and the doctors’ offices are located in the northern of the two parallel slabs. Between them there are a number of courtyards, attractively planted and even creatively designed using glass blocks (design: idealice - Alice Größinger). The wards and intensive stations which are housed in the four north-south wings can be conveniently reached from these central areas. The intensive stations are open spaces with glass partitions that take up almost the entire depth of the wing, a corridor running along the east façade allows one to walk past them. The patients wards in contrast are organised on the traditional central corridor circulation system with central service stations, all the rooms have just one or two beds, patients with general category health insurance are on the first floor, those with additional insurance on the second. At the northern end of these wings open into a lounge and from the lounge onto a terrace – from there the route continues along the attractive passerelles, Mediterranean constructions that are something of a trademark of Dietmar Feichtinger. With their “escape route” function these lovely light steel structures connect the wings to create a single major form, while also allowing space to flow unhindered from the surroundings into the garden-like open courtyards between the “fingers”. The clarity, reasonable dimensions and elegance of this system truly succeed in achieving the hotel-like character promised.
Two main routes
The patients wards are sliced transversely by one of the two “main routes” that were among the convincing original concepts in the competition design. Mega volumes can only be translated into a lucid sequence of space by means of simple and clear circulation, a basic requirement of the user-friendliness that was aimed for, and certainly achieved, here. The designers created two “main routes”: a patients’ route and a visitors’ route. The latter leads from the central, multi-storey entrance hall at the south-east of the centre right through the ward wings on all levels, in the process forming further courtyards. And the patients' route runs parallel along the north side of the out-patient and surgery wing. In addition to this unambiguous separation of spheres there is also a colour concept that, astonishingly, was adhered to and is impressively simple: yellow for the examination rooms, blue for nursing areas, green for operating theatres, and grey for general zones. These colours are restricted to the floors and thus also serve as a guidance system.
Naturally, a complex of this kind has a multitude of special rooms to describe which would fill an entire book. In the public areas it is above all the forecourt with its magnificent roof, the entrance hall with its generous height and cafeteria on the gallery, the chapel with its elegant panelling, and the interdenominational meditation room with a slate wall in the joints of which people can deposit their wish lists. The overall character of the complex emanates a Mediterranean flair, the anthracite façades, the steel passerelles, the areas of glazing and the yellow external blinds develop a subtle play of minimalist design means. Thanks to the internal permeability of the complex and its connection to the city coreby an axis between the medical centre and the supplies and disposals building a major complex has been integrated entirely naturally in a park-like urban body, an achievement which for Austria is certainly unique.