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A Hospital Built for and By Community

A new maternity and pediatrics hospital designed by architect Manuel Herz serves as an important healthcare hub in rural Senegal.

By Rachel Gallaher

Images by Iwan Baan

An exterior courtyard with a green tree and red building in the background.

Maternity and Pediatric Hospital in Tambacounda, Senegal, designed by Manuel Herz. Courtesy of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa.

Last week, the new Maternity and Pediatric Hospital in Tambacounda, Senegal—a project by nonprofits Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa—opened its doors.

Designed pro bono by Swiss-based architect Manuel Herz the two-story building houses clinics for both pediatric and maternity care and was constructed using local labor, resources, and materials, and planned with an architectural vernacular that responds to the extreme climate.

“I have been very interested in the architecture on the African continent for many years, and have researched this topic quite extensively,” says Herz, whose 2015 book African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence delves into the relationship between architectural production and political transformation (and liberation) on the continent during the 1960s and 1970s. “The hospital project allowed me the opportunity to turn this research into a propositional dimension.

“There was also skepticism. When I was approached to participate in the design competition for the new hospital, I was initially skeptical. How can I, as an architect based in Basel, develop a design proposal, and hence suggest a ‘solution’ for a region that I have never visited, for doctors and patients that I have never spoken to, and for a climate that I have not experienced? Eventually, I participated, but rather than handing in a definitive ‘solution,’ I instead proposed a process on how to approach the project that is embedded in research about the local condition, and that relies on collaboration with local partners.”

An aerial view of a hospital with curvilinear architecture. Green trees surround circular buildings.

Aerial view of the hospital campus. The maternity and pediatric clinic's curvilinear shape is a response to the circular buildings around it. Courtesy of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa.

The inclusion and reliance on community involvement was important for all parties involved—Herz notes that they wanted the people in the region who would use the hospital, which services up to 40,000 patients a year, to see it as a resource that had come from within the community rather than an import. The local sourcing also ensured that the financial investment in the project kept money in the community. One unforeseen boon was that during the pandemic, when most construction projects around the globe came to a screeching halt for months on end, the work on the hospital was able to continue.

“Almost all of the construction materials are sourced locally or regionally,” Herz explains, “and all construction workers come from the city of Tambacounda and its rural hinterland. That made this building process much more resilient to the impact of the pandemic. If we would have built the building with a foreign contractor, and imported materials, it would have been much more negatively affected by the pandemic.”

The finished building, which is part of the larger campus of the Tambacounda Hospital, has a curvilinear form (a direct relation to the existing circular hospital buildings) and was designed with passive climate design innovations to combat the challenges posed by the extremities of the local weather (which can reach up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit in the dry season) and to help forgo the need for air conditioning.

“My intention was to develop a building that shades its interior and keeps sun and rain out while allowing wind to pass through,” Herz says. “The temperature differences between slightly hotter and (because of shading) slightly cooler areas, create air movement. The building is, therefore, its own climate machine, creating a local micro-climate that is more temperate than its surrounding.”

A hospital corridor with white walls on one side and red brick latticework on the other.

Brise-soleil brickwork allows for wind to cross ventilate every room in the building. Courtesy of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa.

The building’s length allows for the smooth circulation of staff and patients and accommodates multiple communal spaces both between the rooms and in courtyards formed by the bends of the S-curve, turning it into the social spine of the hospital. The ground floor houses the main parts of the maternity clinic and the operations rooms, and the floor above houses the remaining patient rooms of the maternity clinic and the pediatric clinic. The corridor has rooms only to one side, while the other side features brise-soleil brickwork [a regional material] that allows for wind to cross ventilate every room in the building. The brise-soleil keeps the sun and rain out and lets the air move laterally through the building.

“Designing and building the Pediatric and Maternity clinic at the Tambacounda Hospital has been maybe the most rewarding experience in my architectural career so far,” Herz notes. This collaborative process has led to surprising designs, that are much more interesting, better adapted to the local conditions, and more beautiful than any single-authored project could have delivered. Building in Tambacounda has taught me so much for my future architectural work, not only on the African continent but anywhere in the world.”

Red brickwork balcony and a set of winding stairs.

The building was constructed with passive climate design innovations and spaces for waiting and gathering. Courtesy of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa.


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