Building on the role that nature can play in improving the health and well-being of staff and patients, the Waldkliniken Eisenberg orthopedic hospital, opened in October 2020, stands out for a variety of reasons.
For starters, the 177,600-square-foot hospital is designed in a circular shape. It features large openings that direct views outward toward nature and its forest setting in Eisenberg, Thuringia, Germany.
From there, the project breaks the mold in biophilic design. It offers an extensive use of wood materials, both in the structure and the façade as well as in interior spaces.
Additionally, operable windows and verandas off the patient rooms provide access to nature sounds and fresh air. A series of green roofs and a central courtyard with plantings help maintain comfortable temperatures and further connect the facility to nature.
Jurors lauded the project for its integration into the surrounding landscape and use of natural materials, which together lend the feel of a “wellness spa,” in the words of one juror.
The project was submitted by HDR and Matteo Thun & Partners. Here, Johannes Kresimon, managing director, HDR, Germany (Dusseldorf, Germany), and Matteo Thun, founder of Matteo Thun & Partners (Milan), share insight on some of the project’s stand-out features.
Healthcare Design: What inspired the facility’s circular shape and how did it help you deliver on goals to create a hospital that’s “within and part of nature”?
Matteo Thun: Waldkliniken is surrounded by the forest of the Saale-Holzland district in Thuringia. The circular façade, wherever you are, gives the same relaxing view of the forest outside. We wanted all patient rooms to have views toward the green outdoors. Nature itself takes part in the healing processes.
Together with HDR, we planned the building as a “three zeros” concept—zero distance, zero carbon dioxide, and zero waste—employing local materials such as regionally sourced larch wood and labor when possible, optimizing energy loads and emissions, and using or reusing renewable materials.
For example, where possible, we have tried to use wood not only for the façade, but also in the public areas such as parquet natural oak in the restaurant, piazza, and lobby.
Johannes Kresimon: The aim was to develop a hospital that puts people at the center. The new building is influenced by the surrounding nature: a lot of green for the interior and exterior spaces, natural materials, daylight as well as color compositions of flora and fauna.
Because the immediate environment plays a major role in the healing process of the patients, it was important that the large window openings create a strong connection to the forest with its weather and seasons. The windows can be opened so that inside the hospital you can also listen to the sound of the wind and smell the damp forest floor.
What type of structure was required to support the building’s shape?
Kresimon: The new building was constructed using the timber-hybrid construction method. The reinforced concrete skeleton structure, necessary for fire protection and for the large spans required in hospital construction, was reduced to a minimum.
Infill walls, such as the exterior walls on the upper floors, are designed as a timber-frame construction and clad with wood. The hybrid construction is given shape on the exterior façades via the horizontal exposed concrete fire bulkheads between the timber façades.
Wood plays a starring role on the project. Why was that important, and how did you make it feasible from a code perspective?
Kresimon: The Saale-Holzland district is characterized by craftsmanship with wood, making a wood-concrete hybrid construction method for the new hospital an obvious choice. Individual concepts had to be developed for the complex requirements of a clinic building in terms of fire protection. Only in this way was it possible to reduce the reinforced concrete skeleton construction required for fire protection to a minimum.
At the same time, the infill panels of the exterior walls, designed as a timber frame construction, were also clad with wood on the upper floors. This made it possible to achieve not only ecological advantages, such as the use of renewable raw materials, the improvement of the carbon dioxide balance, and prefabrication, but also economic advantages, such as lower lifecycle costs and shorter construction times.
Thun: From the outside, the large windows reflect the trees. As the larch wood on the exterior to a silvery patina, the façade will seem to disappear into the forest. In 50 years, this building will look even better.
Part of the project’s sustainable design strategy includes an innovative heating and cooling system. Explain how this it works.
Kresimon: Part of the concrete structure is sustainably used for the temperature control of the patient rooms via a concrete core activation. Through this system, heated or cooled water flows through pipelines in the walls or ceiling for temperature regulation. An underground ice storage system near the main building provides the source of the necessary seasonal base temperature for heating and cooling.
Additionally, all rooms are individually connected to the ventilation system, so that there’s no mixing of air with other rooms via the ventilation system. The heat exchangers for the supply and exhaust air can be coupled directly by means of a circuit network as heat recovery or for cooling with the ice storage.
In addition to the unusual building shape, the patient rooms are configured in a Z-shape. What inspired this and how does it contribute to the healing environment?
Kresimon: In primarily two-bed rooms, the design and staggered arrangement of the beds, the bathroom, and the veranda allows for opportunities for retreat or creates a meeting place close to the bed. By interlocking with the bathroom and veranda, each bed is given its own assigned spatial zone, which can be separated by a curtain if necessary.
Thun: We designed the floor plans of the multiple-bed rooms as Z-shaped two-bed rooms to offer guests the opportunity to withdraw and enjoy their privacy. The patios between the homey environments act as a connector and climate buffer but also provide a space where guests can socialize. The size of the rooms is equal to those used in conventional hospitals.
Anne DiNardo is executive editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the Design Showcase winners during an awards luncheon at the 2022 HCD Conference + Expo, taking place Oct. 8-11, in San Antonio. The program will also honor the winners of Healthcare Design’s Remodel/Renovation Competition and Rising Stars programs. For more details and to register, visit HCDexpo.com.