What design elements and approaches did AGi architects adopt for its work on the Hisham Abdullah Hamed Al-Sager Cardiac Center in Kuwait? How did they contribute to maintaining the quality of the building’s indoor environment?
From our point of view, the overall environment of a facility is not limited to what’s visible. When we talk about environment, we’re also talking about the perceptual environment – about the air you breathe, the sound you hear, about the overall experience you get when in any facility, be it healthcare or otherwise.
We look at those elements as critical parts of design, and not just secondary considerations. Good quality acoustics, good quality air – those must be inherent in hospitals. It’s important not just to look at it from a hygiene perspective. Hospitals are not only about bacteria. You have people working there in hundreds, and they have to be comfortable and they need to have fresh air. But they should also have access to the outdoors. In terms of the cardiac centre, we made sure that all the windows were openable. That was a crucial element in the design, because while we are in a hot climate, as long as you have openable windows that look out into internal courtyards, you actually get cooler air. The combination of internal courtyards and openable windows work well in getting the breeze in and out.
I’ve experienced this myself. During construction, when we didn’t have any electricity in the building, it was still quite cool. And that was because of the passive systems we used to ensure the building was climatically controlled. So, those are a couple of measures we’ve taken, and we don’t think of them as add-ons but as inherent parts of design.
Could you elaborate on how you incorporated openable windows into your design to achieve both good IEQ and energy efficiency?
In this industry, we need to develop our own language instead of using another’s, without understanding anything
Because of the location of the building, it’d gain a lot of heat if there were large windows. So what we’ve done is place long but thin windows. On top of that, we added these horizontal louvres that protruded outside to make sure that when the sun hits, it’s actually hitting the louvres and the rays don’t go in, which means you only get daylight. This strategy has worked to our advantage, because the building is fully insulated and we are preventing direct sunlight from going in, which is what you want to do in this type of climate. If you were in England, on the other hand, you would be looking for the sun.
Unfortunately, when people here look at the West, they want what they have there. But you cannot copy what the West has and what it is doing. It’s not practical and sensible, which you could observe from the high-rises here. They are fully glazed – from top to bottom – and you have to pump so much energy into them just to cool them down. How does that make sense? Why should I have all those windows if I’d need to switch on all available artificial lights and start pumping energy to make the building cool?
That contradiction is what we feel obliged to correct and do the opposite of, because I think that it is our role to look at various technologies and different ways of thinking and try to localise them, to think of how to adapt them to our needs and our conditions, and hopefully, rethink the way that we have been exporting ideas and solutions. In this industry, we need to develop our own language instead of using another’s, without understanding anything.
What about the centre’s cooling or air conditioning requirements? Were there any specific solutions you looked into?
In general, there were various solutions in terms of their ability to maintain the quality of air – to produce purified air. The noise of the equipment was also considered. But I cannot tell you that there was anything extraordinary in terms of the kind of solutions that were looked into. For the centre, I think cooling was just simply cooling − chillers, for instance. But I know the filtration system we used is quite advanced. It was something that we had invested a lot of time and money in.
Based on your observation, how would you describe Kuwait’s healthcare sector at the moment?
Right now, I believe there are more than six or seven 1,000-bed hospitals being built as we speak. It’s really a big market. Of course, from my point of view, it’s a challenge, because to build that many hospitals – it’s not just about building them, because building them is the easy part. However, to equip them with not just the right technology and tools but also the right quality of doctors, and to make sure that they offer quality healthcare service – those are the actual challenges.
In the end, building the facility is the easiest part of the whole process; what’s most difficult is managing and achieving a good healthcare environment. I think that’s the biggest challenge, because it’s about daily operations and about the doctors and the rest of the staff – those are what count the most.
How do you make sure that the quality of a facility continues to be at its best?
Putting up a building is costly and involves hard work, yes, but management and operations are the true life of a building.