Egypt’s cancer centre by SOM reinvents the large medical campus

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Egypt’s New National Cancer Institute (NNCI) will stretch across a nine million square foot campus just outside of Cairo. Intended to strengthen the institute’s position as the largest comprehensive cancer centre across the Middle East, Europe and Africa, the facility will be able to offer medical services to 1.7 million patients per year, as well as serve as an international nexus of cancer research, education and discourse.

When complete the medical campus will consist of a 1000-bed hospital with an extensive out-patient centre. It will also include a specialised nursing institute, hotel and housing, and facilities for research, training, faculty and conferences.

To be located on a gently sloping, 35-acre site in Giza’s Sheikh Zayed City, NNCI’s design meets the client’s vision and phasing flexibility, and responds to the regional climate. In achieving this, SOM created a unified system of functional modules that are woven together via ‘circulation spines’ and arranged around landscaped courtyards.

“The circulation spines offer patients, visitors and staff access to the various campus programmes, as well as a network of amenities including cafes, lounges, prayer rooms, retail, paediatric activity areas and day care,” said Scott Habjan, associate director at SOM. “The staff spine not only provides an efficient means to traverse the entire length of the campus, it also fosters a sense of community through informal and spontaneous interactions between clinicians, researchers and students.”

The use of spines exemplifies the overall organisation system’s goal of creating both “authentic cohesion” and orderly separation for the campus.

According to the architects, the centrepiece of the new campus is its paired in-patient and out-patient components, which total four million square feet. While the in-patient hospital is divided into six modules, the out-patient facility comprises a sequence of four volumes. Both are interspersed with courtyards developed in collaboration with landscape architecture firm Cracknell.

“The Grand Courtyard, which resides between the hospital and outpatient centre will provide patients and visitors with a large, calming and shaded venue within the campus,” said Habjan. “Many patients with little means will travel long distances from all corners of Egypt, as well as neighbouring countries with their family members in search of critical treatment at NNCI. Many will arrive without an appointment and for them in particular, this courtyard will serve as a welcome extension of the waiting lounges inside.”

According to Habjan, the ‘Open Space Network’, in general, provides a range of landscapes that offer places of respite and contemplation, gathering and interaction, and places that convey the prestige of the medical institution. The courtyard organisation also integrates indoors and outdoors and assists in wayfinding, as the variety of landscaping treatments defines each as a unique marker.

Moreover, the entire hospital is situated above a massive support plinth. Taking advantage of the site’s sloping topography and the set of courtyards, the underground areas reach six levels below grade. Stretching across the institute’s entire site, it accommodates auxiliary clinical and research space, general building support, the central plant and distributed mechanical systems and parking. Although fully integrated, the internal planning of the facility was designed for a three-step phasing strategy to ensure an early start.

The architectural language further expresses a conversation between vernacular and modern architecture, asserts Habjan. The functional building modules are clad in stone to convey strength and permanence, and the courtyards throughout the campus allude to the local tradition of connecting occupants to shaded outdoor space.

The circulation spines faceted glass skins are also meant to represent lightness and modernity, and both glass and stone surfaces feature abstract patterning inspired by Egypt’s history,
from Islamic influence to the ancient hieroglyphics.

“The architecture of the campus endeavours to achieve a balance – creating a modern place rooted in local heritage,” said Habjan. “The faceted glass circulation spines with their ceramic frit patterns are very prominent in the image of the campus. In fact, they enclose only a small part of the campus’ interior space. Also, the high efficiency of the more ‘solid’ stone-clad programme modules and the campus support platform combine to create a complex well-tuned to its environment.”

He added, “This design reinvents the large medical campus. [It] addresses critical issues like cohesive growth, phasing and programming flexibility, as well connectivity and community in a new and exciting way.”

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