Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital
Location: Parktown, Johannesburg, South Africa
Project completion: December 2016
Client: Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust
Architect: Sheppard Robson International, GAPP Architects and Urban Designers, John Cooper and Ruben Reddy Architects

During 2011, we joined the design team of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, a 200 bed specialist paediatric and academic tertiary referral hospital. This hospital envisioned by Nelson Mandela, relied solely on donor funding raised by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Construction was completed in May 2016 and the interior design phase in December 2016.

The landscape design is firmly based on the concept and principles of therapeutic landscape design. A landscape with therapeutic value is purposely designed to allow patients of all abilities (disabled, abled, young & old), their loved ones and care-givers, to interact with nature in order to aid the process of healing. This choice to interact with nature, as well as making decisions while experiencing the garden, provides patients with a sense of control at a time when their health and wellbeing is in the control of others. In return, this sense of control combined with the sensory benefits of being in a garden, physical activity and social interaction, result in a reduction in stress which ultimately leads to quicker recovery times.

On plan the different hospital functions are arranged around 5 internal landscaped courtyards. Collectively they form the ‘green heart’ of the hospital and will ensure that every patient, visitor and staff member will be exposed to as much greenery and natural light as possible. The courtyards have been grouped into Active – and Passive Healing Courtyards and the design for each space has been determined by its relationship with the surrounding hospital functions, the type of user and its location over natural ground or concrete slab.

The Day - , Play - and Family Gardens are active courtyard gardens on the ground floor level and will mostly serve as outdoor waiting and activity areas for day visitors. In-patients who are well enough, will be encouraged to visit the courtyard gardens with their family or care-givers. Opportunities for play in these courtyards include a life-size toy train sculpture by artist Mary Sibande, a swing & climbing structure, a life-size Umlabalaba game board, chalk boards, movable seating and an interactive water feature. The Healing – and Quiet Gardens are passive courtyard gardens, situated on the lower ground floor level next to the surgical theatres and the intensive care wards. The purpose of these spaces is to provide a peaceful & restorative environment, where family members can experience a reprieve from their stressful circumstances. Natural textures, reflection ponds and large trees contribute to the quiet and contemplative nature of these spaces.

The external hospital landscape was designed as a series of courtyard gardens. The Arrival Court, Visitor Garden and Children’s Garden are welcoming spaces designed to appeal to adults and children of all ages. The cafe terrace in the Visitor Garden overlooks a circular pond, which is connected to the Children’s Garden with a narrow water channel shaded by a pergola. The play elements in the Children’s Garden include a colourful timber climbing structure with a slide, swings, climbing net and a chalk-board, as well as a bird-bath, ride-on toys and animal sculptures. The Sensory (Horticultural Therapy) Garden and Occupational Therapy Garden will provide an outdoor venue for the therapy programmes offered by the hospital. Horticultural therapy gives a child the opportunity to actively participate in the cycle of nature and to substitute his/her role as patient, with the role of care giver through activities such as planting, re-potting, weeding, pruning and ‘harvesting’. These activities reduce boredom and stress, resulting in happier children that recovers faster. The landscape design of the Occupational Therapy Garden can facilitate play therapy, nature therapy and various physical therapies. Raised planters with sensory planting, a work-bench, water-play basin, sand-pit and rubberized floor surfaces can be utilised by the various therapy programmes.

The purpose of the therapeutic garden spaces is to provide relief from the stress and emotional trauma of the hospital environment. Our aim was to create a landscape that would aid in the convalescence of the children and that would provide welcoming, supportive spaces for visitors and members of staff. As a tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela, the intention of this project (from conceptualisation to completion) has been to serve the children of South Africa.

Contributors to the Landscape:

  • Planting Design: Dr. Erika van den Berg - Landscape Architect
  • Design Coordinator: Michelle Foster - Blackbird Design

Art in the Landscape:

  • Art Curator:
    Bongi Dhlomo
  • Project Manager for art installation:
    Bié Venter
  • Artists:
    Exterior Landscape
    Animal sculptures:
    - Winston Luthuli
    Sensory Garden Interactive water feature:
    - Usha Seejarim in collaboration with Bronwyn Findlay
    Mosaic panels:
    - Bronwyn Findlay
    Interior Landscape
    Interactive train:
    - Mary Sibande (manufactured by Alan Epstein)
    Umlabalaba play pieces & Abacus pieces:
    - The Coloured Cube
    Movable flower shaped seating:
    - Spitfire Furniture & Design
    Story Screen steel vignettes:
    - The Coloured Cube in partnership with Assemblage
    - Paper Prayer mosaic panels:
    - Soweto Art Ladies Mosaic Co-op.

Landscape Contractors:

  • Main Contractor:
    Life Landscapes
  • Play Structures:
    Truestyle Hard Landscaping Solutions
  • Steel Screens:
    Spiral Engineering

Wayfinding Signage:

  • Vincent Truter - Creative Direction and Wayfinding Strategy
  • Carina Comrie - Creative Direction and Graphic Design
  • Lou Louw - Project and Production Management
  • Jenny Hattingh – DTP

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