A landmark project, Te Wao Nui - Wellington Children’s Hospital is spearheaded by philanthropist and developer Mark Dunjatschik.
Replacing the existing paediatric facility, the design response sees a 7,200 sqm children’s hospital, built efficiently with space for future developments within the masterplan. Connected to the main hospital by a link bridge, the new building is base-isolated and IL-4 rated, with 50 individual bedrooms, 21 clinic rooms, a playscape, services annexe, auxiliary space and five previously disparate Child Health Services integrated into one fit-for-purpose facility.
This project was delivered by Michael O'Brien whilst at Studio Design + Architecture. The architectural team of SD+A, and the associated projects have since been acquired by Ignite. The inception of the project is unusual, in that the benefactor both funded and engaged the design team, for a public healthcare building that would usually be financed by the government. With a commitment to meeting the dual brief of clinical integrity and a child-considered environment, the team set out to consider how the development could be formed, with both public and private funding.
The hospital’s interior encompasses an abundance of natural light and views, with strategically positioned patient and staff areas. Ergonomically designed clinical rooms, with fold-down caregiver beds and ensuite bathrooms consider the needs of parents and carers.
Considered landscaping gardens and the playscape bring a connection with nature from outside. This aligns with the forest-themed interior, providing a child-friendly finish, steering away from a harsh clinical environment. This theme ties into the hospital’s name, with Te Wao Nui translating to The Great Forest of Tane, reflecting the life-giving properties of nature.
Externally, glazing is softened by asymmetric metal fins to the upper floors, creating a feathering effect, and translucent coloured glass fins to the ground floor, in keeping with the key principle of the design, that the building should be child-centred.
Whilst the original design called for underground carparking, with asbestos-contaminated soil across the site, excavation was deemed uneconomical and a risk. Instead, the under-building carpark was removed, and the 700mm foundation raft slab lifted, placed directly on the existing ground plane. This effectively reduced ground disturbance, and encapsulated hazardous material. A pre-augering methodology was selected to reduce vibration in the neighbouring hospital during critical surgeries.
The building's steel frame provides a rigid building above isolator level and ensures relatively small distortion within the building. Such interventions bolster the building's seismic resilience, so it can continue to operate immediately after an earthquake or other disaster event – critical due to the building’s function.