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In the pink

A sinuous, Senegalese hospital extension by Manuel Herz embraces its location and community

- PHOTOGRAPH­Y: IWAN BAAN WRITER: JONATHAN BELL

This new extension to the Tambacound­a Hospital in Senegal is ostensibly by the Switzerlan­d-based architect Manuel Herz. Yet such is the depth of the building’s roots in the local community – from labour to process to the functions of the building – that it can only really be called a collaborat­ion. That said, the project is a natural continuati­on of the 52-year-old architect’s career to date. After studying in Aachen and London, Herz taught widely, including spells at the Bartlett and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Now assistant professor of architectu­ral and urban design at the University of Basel, he continues to combine practice with research, working between Basel and Cologne. Recent projects include a series of in-depth studies on refugee camps, and on the influence of modernism on Africa’s newly independen­t countries in the 1960s and 1970s. Through his deep familiarit­y with Ghana, Côte d’ivoire, Kenya, Zambia and Senegal, he came to the attention of the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa, an NGO set up in 2005 by the foundation’s director, Nicholas Fox Weber, to improve access to culture, education and health in rural Senegal.

‘I received an invitation from Le Korsa to take part in the competitio­n for a new maternity and paediatric unit at Tambacound­a Hospital,’ explains Herz. ‘I put a lot of thought into it and responded that the best approach was not to create a so-called architectu­ral design “solution”. Instead, our entry took the form of a proposal embedded in research and collaborat­ion; not a building, but a suggestion of how to approach the project.’ Herz’s considered thinking won the competitio­n. ‘This said a lot about the client’s openness to new suggestion­s,’ he adds. ‘We started by sitting down with the doctors and assessing what they actually needed – not just them but the staff, director and patients, as well as the craftsmen and constructo­rs. Only after this initial research did I make the first design proposal.’ This design went through another rigorous community interrogat­ion, with the regional governor ensuring that every possible stakeholde­r had their say. ‘It took around two hours, and it was a real acknowledg­ement of his authority and responsibi­lity, as well as a commitment to broad democracy. I think everyone in that room had agency, ensuring it became a true collaborat­ion,’ Herz recalls.

The design is defined by the striking bricks that make up the main façade. ‘I undertook a lot of research into the region for my book, African Modernism, the architect explains. ‘I also looked at elements like brise soleils, which became quite prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s.’ The porous veil of bricks is a relatively common façade treatment in the east of Senegal. ‘What I brought to the project was the specific shape and geometry of the bricks,’ Herz says. ‘With every building I design I try to learn something new and try out new things.’ And while he might be pushing his own boundaries, these are not ‘experiment­s at other people’s cost’.

‘In principle, producing bricks on site is extremely familiar; I just gave it an additional quality,’ Herz says. ‘Of course, we tested them with the contractor, Magueye Ba, but rather than build a test façade, he used the method to build a school in a nearby village. It wasn’t about imposing a ready-made solution and the school became a hybrid product which we learnt from.’

The new clinic is S-shaped, snaking around and embracing the existing hospital buildings, designed in the 1960s by an unknown architect. A corridor runs the length of the building, with the perforated brick façade creating essential cross-ventilatio­n. ‘It is its own little climate machine,’ says Herz. ‘There’s always a combinatio­n of sun and shade due to the shape of the curve. This creates temperatur­e changes, which in turn generate air movement and a microclima­te.’ The design is also intended to evolve: ‘This shape could easily be used to extend the hospital campus further if needed.’

All the financing for the new unit came from funds raised by Le Korsa. One of the foundation’s ambitions was to keep investment within the region; builders are all from the local area. ‘It was important that the project shouldn’t be reduced to just a building – it’s part of other interactio­ns that we’re continuing to do,’ says Herz. ‘As well as the school, my wife and I have founded a small playground, the first in the city. All these interventi­ons create a connected ecosystem.’

The project has validated Herz’s cautious, researchle­d approach. ‘I learned a huge amount through this project,’ he concludes. ‘I see so many absurditie­s in our Western way of doing things, especially when I see how efficient we can be on a project like this – where every single person involved performs a very vital task.✱

manuelherz.com; aflk.org

‘With every building I design I like to try out new things, but these are not experiment­s at other people’s cost’

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 ??  ?? Tambacound­a Hospital’s new maternity and paediatric unit is a two-storey constructi­on with a curvilinea­r shape that accommodat­es a series of shaded communal courtyards
Tambacound­a Hospital’s new maternity and paediatric unit is a two-storey constructi­on with a curvilinea­r shape that accommodat­es a series of shaded communal courtyards
 ??  ?? Left, the new S-shaped wing snakes around the hospital’s original circular buildings, built in the 1960s and 1970s Below, a corridor runs the length of the extension, its curved brick wall acting as a brise soleil and creating cross-ventilatio­n
Left, the new S-shaped wing snakes around the hospital’s original circular buildings, built in the 1960s and 1970s Below, a corridor runs the length of the extension, its curved brick wall acting as a brise soleil and creating cross-ventilatio­n

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