Architecture is a way of providing care, attention, and dignity. This belief underpinned the design and construction of the San Raffaele research hospital’s new surgery and emergency center in Milan. The new wing establishes a continuity with the existing structure, designed by MC A-Mario Cucinella Architects, who’ve called the new project “a kind of iceberg” that breaks down many of the conventions and stereotypes of healthcare architecture through painstaking attention to the choice of materials and low environmental impact solutions, both inside and out. In fact, the building is the first hospital in Italy to earn LEED Gold certification, amply rewarding the commitment taken to sustainability, energy and water saving, reducing CO2 emissions, and, in general, minimizing the environmental impact of the interiors, materials, resources, and the choice of site.
An example is the antibacterial ceramic used for the sanitary ware as well as the full-height louvers that distinguish the façades.
“The cladding of San Raffaele’s new surgical and emergency center, the white ‘skin’ of the iceberg, is about function as much as form, with the louvers made of the latest generation smog-eating ceramic,” explains Cucinella. “This material is able to reduce atmospheric pollution and also has antibacterial properties. The interior and exterior spaces, the colors, the way in which the rooms and common areas are designed – everything is aimed to impart a sense of dignity and reassurance to people. It’s therefore reasonable to talk about architecture itself as a form of care.”
The new center, which is integrated with the existing structure, comprises two complementary elements: a single-level base, housing essential hospital services, and a tower, housing the wards and so on. A clear departure from the idea of a single-level plan organized linearly, the two elements are integrated both architecturally and functionally, with each complementing the other in terms of forms and the activities conducted. The organization of spaces reflects a rational, pragmatic approach. Both have also been designed to maximize natural light, partly through it being reflected off the ceramic surfaces, and a connection with nature. All these features contribute to creating a comfortable, nurturing environment. “Meeting with the client opened the door for us to take an innovative approach to the project and do away with many of the clichés of hospital architecture,” says MC Architects project director, Marco Dell’Agli Valletti. “We’ve demonstrated how modern hospitals can be functional, flexible, efficient, and, at the same time, beautiful and pleasant places to be in – places offering the time and calm needed to receive treatment and be healed.”
The first of the two elements that make up the center is a single-floor structure at ground level that houses the most important functions: the emergency rooms, intensive care, and the surgical block. Pragmatism, functionality, and flexibility are all present in the design, expressed, among other things, through ease of access to the various areas and the direct routes taken by the corridors. This was achieved through discussion with the staff who were going to be using these spaces every day. As project leader of MC Architects, Laura Mancini, explains:
“Through numerous meetings with the owners, the management team, and the medical staff who’ll be working in the new wing, the design was tweaked and refined several times to identify the functional requirements and respond to actual needs. This process of mutual exchange was key to the success of the project.”
The second element is the tower, which houses the wards, medical offices, and outpatient clinics. From the furnishings and fittings up, it was conceived and designed as a place for healing. The design was also informed by the setting, as reflected in its curved lines and surfaces, as well as the lightening effect of its slender, upward-sweeping profiles. The slight curve of the elevations makes it possible to differentiate the external view from the hospital rooms while also improving natural light levels in the central section of the façade.
With even more windows in the corners of the building, the common areas and wards located here have an excellent visual connection with the exterior. In winter, these spaces act as solar greenhouses, easing demand on the heating system.
The envelope of the new center is all glass, with full-height vertical louvers on the tower, which, besides creating a more slender, lighter appearance, have a bioclimatic function. Working as sunscreens, they reduce thermal loads without preventing natural light from entering the building. The reflective properties of the ceramic louvers also add to the amount of light inside.
The louvers also have an important antibacterial quality. Plus, with a photocatalytic titanium dioxide coating, they trap polluting particles in the atmosphere. Once rendered inert by the sun’s rays, the particles are washed away by rain. The same material also plays a role in areas adjacent to the building, supporting the transformation of ozone into oxygen.
The new wing is a blueprint for how to design green buildings. Underlining the entire project was the need to create ideal conditions for health inside the building, this leading to the choice of particular materials, many of which vary from the norm. Synthetics, such as PVC, which are so common in hospital construction, were avoided in favor of antibacterial stoneware surfaces, which combine excellent mechanical resistance and durability with their antibacterial properties.
The same is true for the ceramic fittings and bathroom fixtures, the first made with eco-sustainable formaldehyde-free materials, and the second, treated with an antibacterial coating. Finally, the use of recycled materials and the presence of green spaces, both indoors and out, contribute to improving the quality of the air and the feelings of wellbeing experienced by patients, staff, and visitors.
All these structural and architectural features, along with the choice of the latest high-efficiency services, further contribute to reducing the building’s energy consumption and have made it the first LEED Gold certified hospital in Italy.
“We worked with the clear intention of creating a building that’s well designed and offers exceptional comfort levels,” adds Mario Cucinella. “It’s a building that needs very little energy for heating, since it retains heat while minimizing heat gain, and therefore needs little cooling. The new San Raffaele surgical and emergency center is among the projects that best illustrate the studio’s commitment to sustainability, as symbolized by its iconic façade.”
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Location: Milano, Italia
Architects: MC A-Mario Cucinella Architects
Client: Irccs Ospedale San Raffaele - Gruppo San Donato
Surface: 40.000 m2
Custom-made Façade System: Schüco
Photography by Duccio Malagamba, courtesy of MC Architects