HKS Chicago - Prince Sattam University Hospital


Jorge Barrero of HKS takes us through the schematic design phase of Prince Sattam University teaching hospital in Al-Karj, Saudi Arabia.  He will explain how the economical and cultural conditions in Saudi Arabia influenced the building’s design. Additionally he will talk about the building program, budget, and materials used.  

Practical Applications

It is a teaching hospital for Prince Sattam University, and it's comprised of 300 beds, as well as admin facilities, auditorium facilities and an emergency room facility.

And so, it really took a lot of research and it also takes getting to know, not just the parts of the world that have these sort of situations out from a climate and cultural perspective, but it's important to visit the site and to do as much information gathering as possible to better understand how to solve their problems. The project that we're talking about is Prince Sattam University Teaching Hospital and it's located in a town called, Al Kharj, which is about an hour's drive southeast of the capital of Saudi Arabia, which is Riyadh. It's a small town that is primarily grown out of the university.

And so, we were trying to figure out a way to leverage that idea and incorporate that into the design and make that sort of a feature of the project, and the client very much resonated with it, so we have these diagrams that start to talk about circulation and connection and using the idea of this wadi that cuts through the building to make the connections between the different programs that are going to happen in the project. And so, the thinking was that we would merge the wadi topography along with the city topography, which is also sort of irregular, and out of that comes out something that is very abstract. But this is really very early sketches and ideas that we explore with the client, where you start big picture thinking in terms of how this thing's really going to work within the actual building.

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From a sustainability standpoint, the challenges really had to do with orientation of the building, daylight, solar heat gain, looking at your prevailing winds to start to incorporate any passive strategies into your building, access to waters primarily done through deep wells that run underneath the sites. And, more often than not, large projects like these require their own well of water to run, pretty much, portable water that's filtered, as well as any water that's needed to run any mechanical systems. There was a lot to consider and we put a fair amount of effort in studying the site and try to understand how the building would be oriented because that directly translate into the building envelope.

There are multiple drop-off areas for vehicles. We needed ample parking and you can see the building was placed in the center, which gave us the most flexibility to control its orientation to maximize the benefits of those passive strategies that we wanted to build into. So it didn't hinder us to be in some sort of grid or predetermined site, so that was a benefit.

So these, there is a lot of time spent working closely with the client who was the dean of the architecture school in addition with the doctors who are the professors and understanding how they are going to be teaching and working with the students to make the program work for them. And really moving the blocks of many, many rooms. The adjacencies are super, super critical and there was a lot of time spent identifying every single one of them to make sure that everything sort of worked together.

Now, we did not have a contractor on board early on in this project, but we did work with a local architect who had a fairy good pulse on costs and so they were giving us feedback and guiding us in terms of certain mechanical systems, materials, what would be feasible that would not push the budget, you know, to a place where we just couldn't afford to build those ideas. So we do work with a local pawner that helped give us a local perspective in terms of construction costs comparable to other hospitals and teaching facilities as they that they work on for us to design to a budget even though we didn't quite know what that budget was so primarily it was deigned to meet the program with some fair assumptions that would make it a reasonably costed building but at the same time we didn't want to, you know, handicap ourselves and propose some ideas that would in the long term save them some money as well.

We considered steel early on for the main structural system but it was very quickly ruled out primarily because of just the raw materials are not in Saudi to make steel and so most of the steel that goes into buildings in the Middle East is imported from other parts of the world so it definitely carries a high premium. The downside to not using steel you know, it really has to do with flexibility. More often than not you know, the workmanship on the concrete, it's not great so a lot of times your structural systems have to be concealed and a lot of times without this added cost to go high strength these systems can be very large.

Little did we know that once we looked at the amount of metal that was gonna be used for these screens, it did provide a high cost. And beyond the cost, it was a lack of resources, again on metal, and also the craftsmanship and the ability for people to produce this locally just because it's not used a lot. And so in order to make this system work, we would have to manufacture it overseas from Saudi, so either in Europe or in the States and ship it in, and then get it installed.

So if you take what the utility company gives you, you have to provide space for it, and putting it in the building, in this case, was just going to take a very large amount of space because there was just too many transformers that would have to live inside the building. So, the project was significant in size enough to provide a separate central energy plant, and that's where we decided to put in the mechanical systems for cooling as well as all the electrical transformers needed to run the project. And having done other projects in the Middle East, that was sort of the norm.

In this particular project and the fact that it's a teaching facility, the male and female student population do share some space, but we definitely had to provide some segregation into our planning. For instance, the auditorium had to have separate entrances for men and women. A lot of that had to do with events, for instance, a speaker came in to do a lecture and where you are going to have students and potential people from the town coming together and you have to provide that segregation.

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