Architecture students collaborate on Chinese cancer center design

George J. Mann

Zhipeng Lu

Zhipeng Lu

This fall, graduate Texas A&M architecture students collaborated with their counterparts at the University of Oklahoma and Southeast University in Nanjing, China to develop a campus master plan for a 27-acre, five-building cancer center, as well as designs for a 300-bed cancer rehabilitation hospital to be located on Hainan Island, China.

Their designs, crafted with oversight from international architecture and engineering firms, were showcased at two public events held Nov. 30 at the HKS, Inc. offices in Dallas and Dec. 5 at the Langford Architecture Center's on the Texas A&M campus.

The international collaboration involving 40 students, coordinated by George J. Mann, holder of the Ronald L. Skaggs Professorship in Health Facilities Design at Texas A&M, and co-directed by Zhipeng Lu, lecturer in the Department of Architecture, yielded four alternative solutions, each developed by one of four teams composed of students from the three participating universities.

"The project emphasized collaboration rather than competition," said Mann. "The students used Skype to communicate, sharing their work with each other and with advisors that included the three participating architecture firms — HKS, Inc. in Dallas and Shanghai, Miles Associates of Oklahoma City and the Institute of Project Planning and Research in Beijing — as well as other architects, physicians and hospital administrators who participated in project critiques throughout the semester."

Though this new way learning — problem solving in a culturally diverse environment across great distances — proved logistically complex, coordination between the three universities and supporting firms was masterfully executed, said Lu, who occasionally assisted with Chinese language translations though most discussions were conducted in English.

"Considering the magnitude of this project," Lu said, "This might be the most influential architecture-for-health educational collaboration ever undertaken by the two countries."

To prepare for the project, students researched cancer incidence and demographic trends in China, where cancer remains a leading cause of illness and death. They also reviewed climate conditions on Hainan Island, became acquainted with regional construction materials and methods, studied feng shui, the Chinese system for spatial arrangements and orientations aimed at maximizing the flow of energy, or "qi," and they identified best practices at the world's top cancer treatment centers.

The students' research was bolstered, Mann said, by knowledge gained from 27 guest lecturers who participated in the Center for Health Systems & Design's Architecture-for-Health Lecture Series, which this fall focused on international healthcare architecture practices.

The cancer rehabilitation hospital will provide care for patients recovering from surgery and radiation and chemotherapy treatments, with 300 beds, space for occupational therapy and counseling, and parking for 300 cars.

The four design solutions, Mann said, emphasize the use of natural light, ease of access for and to patients, and patient access and views to abundant garden space, which is proven to ease pain and promote healing.

"The interior design skills offered by the University of Oklahoma students and the site analyses prepared by the students in Nanjing, as well as their intimate knowledge of Chinese culture and architectural practices," he said, "contributed substantially to the teams' designs."

Team One's solution focuses on natural healing elements, with south-facing hospital rooms to maximize natural lighting and personal balconies with small garden spaces.

"Working with team members located in another state and country," Team One's design statement says, "we learned that communication was one of the most important components of a successful project.”

The second team's master plan is based on the Chinese symbol of water, with an artificially created body of water surrounded by a healing landscape placed along the campus' central longitudinal axis. Their 13-floor rehabilitation hospital design includes several open garden terraces on various levels to ensure access to daylight and natural ventilation.

Team Three's design, replete with traditional Chinese gardens, incorporates the theories of biophilia, humankind's innate love for the natural world, with evidence-based design, in which the design decisions are informed by credible data and research.

Feng shui theory informs Team Four's solution, designed in four curved parts and organized by two gardens: one central garden accessible as public space and another more private garden space for patients.

Their rehabilitation center has a smooth, organic shape with a central atrium designed to enhance ventilation and natural lighting. Like the first team, they provided balconies in every room.

"By collaborating with an international university and international architectural firms, as well as across disciplines and geographic areas, students are exposed to a variety of cutting-edge design practices," said Ron Skaggs, chairman emeritus of HKS and adjunct professor of architecture at Texas A&M. "Such projects prepare them for a career designing health facilities on an international level and enhance their opportunities in a competitive job market."

"The students also gained valuable experience working with alterative design methodologies, which is helpful in a rapidly shifting marketplace," said Joseph G. Sprague, senior vice president and director of health facilities at HKS.

The Hainan Island cancer center project is the most recent collaboration between Texas A&M's architecture-for-health studio and HKS, Inc., which has served as an advisory teaching firm to the Texas A&M College of Architecture since 1973. Other recent collaborations include a M.D. Anderson Cancer Center project in Houston and the National Taiwan University Cancer Hospital in Taipei.

Other educators and practitioners participating in the cancer center project included:

  •  Craig Beale, executive vice president and healthcare group director at HKS, who lectured at Texas A&M and traveled to Nanjing to advise student participants at Southeast University;
  • Ying Zhou, professor of architecture at Southeast University;
  • Hepi Wachter and James Patterson, architecture professors at the University of Oklahoma;
  • Davene Morgan, an architect at Miles Associates in Oklahoma City.
  • Xiqiu Huang, Jian Gu and June Huang, with IPPR in in Beijing; and
  • HKS architects Ron Dennis, Alex Wang, Alex Ling, Brian Briscoe and Southern Ellis.
posted November 27, 2012