University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Alkek Tower Expansion
Houston, Texas
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Alkek Tower Expansion
Houston, Texas

You’re not alone. There are people out there who are able to help. Millions of people each year are affected by cancer. And although we have come a long way through years of research, we are still searching for answers. But there are places designed specifically for helping those affected by the disease. And there are doctors dedicated to providing the best care possible to those afflicted.

Dramatically rising to meet current and future challenges faced by cancer patients, the original University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center ascended 12 stories with integrated infrastructure to rise again. This visionary foresight enabled the HKS team to return two decades later to design a 12-story sequel. The $240 million Alkek expansion on top of the existing tower created 500,000 square feet of new space and nearly 50,000 square feet of renovated space. Working within an active hospital campus occupied by patients with compromised immune systems presented a myriad of challenges. Focused on safety and health, the team mitigated the impact of demolition, noise, obstruction/barriers, infection control, unforeseen weather conditions, scheduling changes, shutdowns, vibration and disruptions to hospital staff, patients and visitors. Ultimately, the Alkek expansion enabled MD Anderson to achieve a seamless evolution from 20th to 21st century inpatient and clinical cancer care and research.

The Vision

Who said you can’t go home again? HKS, Inc. designed the original Albert B. and Margaret M. Alkek Hospital at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in the mid-1990s, working with Walter P Moore (as well as associate architects Lockwood Andrews and Newnam).
Seventeen years later, HKS returned – with Walter P Moore and McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. – to design and build a 500,000-square-foot addition of 12 floors atop an existing hospital. Multiple design, construction and engineering challenges awaited the team – everything from updates in medical delivery to matching the exterior façade to construction noise and vibration.

The Design

In the almost 20-year span, changes in clinical practice provided opportunities to incorporate modifications in the patient tower design. Since the 1990s, patient room standards have increased significantly. The typical 185-square-foot patient room has increased to 225 square feet.

Project challenges also included decentralizing nurse stations, improving staff and patient circulation and streamlining support areas within the new addition.

Finding a lighter exterior façade material that was an exact match to the existing exterior façade posed an interesting design dilemma. Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) was the answer. GFRC, a precast system, creates a 1- to 1 ½-inch thick façade – versus the traditionally 7- to 9-inch precast concrete system – allowing less weight to be attached to the vertical structure. This enabled the team to add two more floors to the building. In addition, the façade wasn’t easy to match after 20 years of wear and tear. To complement the existing precast concrete, several GFRC materials were studied at the factory.

Next, how can construction proceed atop an existing structure without creating distractions for patients, their families and staff? To address the challenge of having construction proceed atop an existing structure without creating distractions for patients their families and staff, a mechanical floor was created between the existing and new building to facilitate building systems operations, and create a buffer between the upper and lower floors.

“The expansion of Alkek Hospital was designed to foster mainstays of our MD Anderson culture: collaboration, coordination of care among many disciplines and focus on the patients and their families. The environment is warm and inviting and encourages healing. It's what our patients expect and deserve.”
|  Janet Sisolak, ASID, Project Director, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center   |