For a first-time visitor to the original Seymour Hospital, the experience was a challenging one. Staff are always warm and welcoming but the original entry difficult to find, and once located, there was no sense of arrival, making wayfinding very difficult.
The adjoining Urgent Care Centre and Ambulance Bay had its own inadequate waiting area, but nursing staff were separated physically and visually from the main entry, a daunting and potentially unsafe situation, particularly at night. Spaces and services had grown organically over fifty years, to the point where they could barely function, despite heroic efforts from the care staff and maintenance crew.
EBD Architects and Umow Lai Engineers were engaged directly by Seymour Health to untangle this knot of dysfunctional space, quite literally in some cases.
Working collaboratively with a reference group of staff and community members, the design response emerged quickly. The reception and triage activities were combined for the Main Entry Waiting Area and the Urgent Care Centre. Both entries had to be capable of independent operation but the Reception Hub, as it became known, would allow staff to service both functional areas, from the safety of a secure location.
Both zones had to stand up to the rigours of a clinical environment but the design intent was to create a more welcoming and comfortable experience by focusing on spatial volume, warm finishes, a visual connection to the external landscape, and by flooding the space with ever-changing, indirect natural light. The Main Entry foyer is now four metres tall, with a full height structural glass façade. Overhead the space is defined by a folded timber surface that reveals its interior to the arriving visitor and envelops the occupants, while promoting a sense of connected security. The flush glass façade contributes to the idea of the hospital as a secure but accessible place, a heterotopia created through the superimposition of reflections and surfaces. Exterior is layered over interior, and vice-versa, as light changes throughout the day.
The materials and finishes ranged from carpet to timber-like laminates, each selected for its durability and its contribution to an overall sense of calm and warmth. Most finishes contained high levels of recycled materials, and all are recyclable.
The existing spaces had to be demolished and rebuilt while the hospital continued to operate. The selected contractors, Building Engineering Pty Ltd, revealed layers of previously concealed, redundant structures and services during the process of careful demolition. Fifty years of electrical cabling crisscrossed the ceiling void, connecting all areas of the hospital. All architectural details were worked out with the steel fabricators, carpenters, glazers, and cabinetmakers, with each contributing their expertise to the final outcome.
The entire build took nine months to complete, and is the result of a truly collaborative process, between the client groups, the consultants, and the contractors. These are complex projects, with challenging existing conditions, but are a pleasure to work on when the work is shared. As time goes on, EBD architects will continue to observe and analyse the occupied spaces, testing our design hypotheses and the performance of the whole environment. In this way, we will continue to learn from our work, and pass on what we learn.
(Photography: Diana Snape)
October 18, 2021