July 2, 2015
Sheba Ross, AICP, LEED AP, Intl AIA, CDT

Inspiration for design often comes from unexpected places.  The stimulus for a design story could be anything from patterns in nature to a figment of imagination. Have you noticed how the use of a daring concept is glorified extensively in student projects, while in the real world, there is much caution that such an approach will not make it?  It is possible that this reluctance is rooted in the occasional abuse of big ideas through literal translation. Or maybe there is a fear of irrelevant expressions. Maybe.

But, sometimes, beautiful stories unravel when they are authored in the vernacular of the context, refined by lessons learned from precedents and fashioned to resonate with the users. I believe that the strength of a concept is quite proportional to the way by which it can influence the definition, design and delivery of a project.

HKS recently had an opportunity to work with a client who embraces robust concepts.  We thoughtfully capitalized on this by shaping a big idea that has the ability to dictate not only the architectural design, but also the physical planning, open space framework and spatial features.

The crafting of principles:

The Central Hospital of Kelamayi project was initiated to replace an inadequate and outdated hospital, with a vision to provide practice, education and research within one campus. The opportunity existed to design one 2000-bed hospital, but the team took advantage of the proximity to the medical school that is under construction and created a campus masterplan that harmonizes into a medical city.

During the early design charrettes and brainstorming sessions, we researched our site location and found that Kelamayi, China's richest city, is distinctly defined by the rugged mountains and the sweeping dunes that echo its desert landscape. Kelamayi is characterized by extreme weather including strong winds in the winter. As a result of the play between the wind and the rocks, a jewel emerges that personifies and embellishes this young city: Kelamayi Jade.

The design team found this drama by nature an inspiration that could dictate multiple strokes in the concept. Jade's antiquity contributes an aura of eternity to this gem. Its journey from the depths of the rocks to its refinement by abrasion easily imitates the evolution of Kelamayi as a jewel city in the desert. We started to envision the Central Hospital of Kelamayi to rise like a jewel and emanate an aura of healing, wellness and rejuvenation.02_Logo

The composition of design:

Armed with details that reflect the core of its place, we proposed the design of the project to meld the three forces whose dynamics result in the birth of a jewel:

  • The in-patient bed towers emulate the stately mountains that fortify and protect;
  • All internal public movement is sheltered under fluid forms thus symbolizing the trance of the dunes and the wind;
  • The negotiation between these elements abrade to reveal and present the polished jade form of the clinics which interface directly with the population and serve as the gateway to healthy living.

This concept, the journey of a jewel, permeates the site plan, building layout, materials and form to root it in the context with innovation. It also influenced the graphics and diagrams that were created to communicate the design intent.

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The challenge through change:

The true test of the concept came when the client gravitated to its essence, but wanted to see three distinct options for the exterior design expressions. The requirement was to take into consideration the economics of the approach and also the multiple opinions of their patrons. In the same timeframe that it took to sculpt the original idea (five weeks), the design team explored variations of the exterior design so that they look dramatically different, while still staying true to the soul of the concept. Each option focused on a different facet of the journey:

  • Option 1 – The FORGING of the jewel
  • Option 2 – The AURA of the jewel
  • Option 3 – The UNVEILING of the jewel

The site was molded to reflect these elements in the circulation, arrival zones, landscaped courts and even the parking configuration.

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The consistency through time:

Tate Linden, President and Chief Creative of the branding agency, Stokefire, is often quoted to have said:

“Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up.”

Our recent experience with the concept design of the Kelamayi Hospital has only augmented this truth.  Even the team profile indicates the coordination and synthesis vital to drive a bold idea through different dimensions of the design. We started with Chenyue Yuan, Preston Bennett, Dan Luhrs and I in the HKS Atlanta office, with support from Ella Zheng in Dallas, and Josh Tooill and Alex Ling in Shanghai. As we stepped on to finalizing the conceptual drawings, we were joined by Graham Sinclair, Justin Kruemmel and Sarah Walter in Atlanta, Fang Xu in Dallas and Jun Tang in Shanghai. This has been a mindful orchestration of diverse perspectives and aptitudes.

So as we wrap up the concept design phase and launch the schematic design stage this week, our team mentality, no matter what our roles are, is to collectively write the next chapter of this prestigious project. Whether it is using words from a keyboard, strokes on paper or models in Revit, it does not really matter.

As long as the story continues.

Or better yet, as long as the choreography lives on.

Posted in Health