Westbury Clinic’s healthy design nets international award

Westbury Clinic’s healthy design nets international award

Corobrik Montana facebrick was used in construction of Westbury Clinic in Johannesburg, which won first prize in the health completed buildings category at the Berlin World Architecture Festival in November 2017.

Westbury Clinic – a R23 million state of the art health facility that services more than 55 000 people and creates an environment that not only heals but promotes health and human dignity – won first prize in the health completed buildings category at the Berlin World Architecture Festival in November 2017.

As the world’s largest architectural award programme, the World Architecture Festival Awards drew more than 2 000 international delegates, and a total of 924 entries from 68 countries. Westbury Clinic was one of only three South African projects shortlisted for the awards and the only one to walk away with a winner’s prize. It was designed for the Johannesburg Department of Health by Ntsika Architects, which is headed by architect Nadia Tromp and is one of the country’s first 100% black-owned architecture firms.

Since 2011, Ntsika Architects has designed 13 clinics. Three are currently still under construction – two in Alexandra Township and the other along the Louis Botha Corridor of Freedom.

Tromp describes the Westbury Clinic project, which began in June 2014 and was officially opened on 6 December 2016, as “a pure Corobrik building which has now been recognised locally and internationally”.

It is in the community of Westbury, along the vibrant Empire – Perth Development Corridor in Johannesburg. It offers comprehensive healthcare services, including tuberculosis (TB) treatment, chronic care, ante natal and post natal care, child healthcare services, HIV care and cancer and prostate screening.

“The biggest challenge for us is creating buildings and spaces that are robust, while promoting health and human dignity. This can be difficult in marginalised communities which are often plagued by social ills and the lack of public space,” she explains.

English bond facebrick was chosen for its aesthetic appeal and because it promotes health and well-being and perfectly fitted the overall brief for the project.

The clinic was specifically designed to mitigate and reduce the transmission of airborne diseases (like TB) through various innovative systems while also eliminating stigmas attached to being ill, which have become synonymous with public healthcare facilities in South Africa.

Ntsika Architects explained in its brief for the award that one of the legacies of apartheid was that the many marginalised communities in and around South African cities had few public amenities. These landscapes were sparsely dotted with public buildings which were often behind fences and had no response to place or civic presence.

On a purely practical note, the Westbury Clinic was designed to mitigate and reduce the transmission of airborne disease through various innovative systems, including overall layout, patient and staff flow and natural cross-ventilation.

In response to the limitations of the land, the clinic occupies the smallest possible area and opens up outdoor areas which serve as external waiting rooms.

The spatial layout of the clinic clearly separates functions preventing cross infection. A central reception area serving the ground floor consultation rooms is filled with light in a double volume space. A courtyard just off this space provides a welcome relief as a second waiting area on the ground floor. The consultation wings are split over two levels, connected by a ramp that wraps the corner of the building. A mezzanine area is provided as a waiting area for the first floor consulting rooms, and opens onto a roof terrace which is used as a secondary waiting area.

“Well-planned exterior environments provide a greater sense of privacy and the circulation of cool air through the consultation rooms. The courtyard becomes the green lung of the facility. Planted trees creating shaded seating areas encourage patients to wait outside, where the chance of transmission of airborne disease is greatly reduced,” say the architects.

The building is set back from the street edge, creating a generous public space. The double storey street façade is designed with minimal high level openings, providing a backdrop for life unfolding, while creating a safe private space. Landscaping softens the edge, providing shade.

With longevity and future maintenance in mind, the building was designed in facebrick. The English bond facebrick is reminiscent of the traditional facebrick buildings in the Joburg CBD and Newtown areas. Its aesthetics speaks to its surrounds, while differentiating itself through its height and monolithic aesthetic.

“When specifying materials for these specialised public environments, we need to ensure that the materials are good quality, long-lasting and robust. This is why, for the Westbury Clinic, we specified Corobrik bricks. “The Corobrik Montana brick was the perfect material in this harsh environment. It is a robust finish which is low maintenance and reminiscent of the old brick buildings of Johannesburg,” Tromp says.

“The brick used is not a typical facebrick finish. Its colour is varied, with some darker parts and some lighter. This inconsistent colour leads to very interesting shades on the façade. Depending on the time of day or how the light falls on the building and shadows are created, the building can sometimes look silvery grey and, at other times, appear more deep red. This is very beautiful. The English bond pattern is reminiscent of many of the historic brick buildings in Johannesburg. This relates the building back to the history of the city, with state of the art finishes and innovation in other parts of the design.”

Ntsika Architects has used the same details on the Noordgesig Clinic in Soweto.

Corobrik’s commercial director, Musa Shangase, welcomed this opportunity to showcase how Corobrik products could help improve health and wellbeing in South African communities.

Noting US Green Building reports that demonstrate that indoor air quality can be 10 times worse than outdoor air on smoggy days in big cities, he said that the use of clay brick would mitigate this as it was a natural product that did not release toxic substances and resisted mould which was known to be one of the chief irritants for patients with lung diseases or allergies.

“Facebrick does not need interior finishing and does not give off the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are usually associated with paints and varnishes,” says Shangase.

“Clay brick is also associated with temperature and humidity control and can keep buildings cooler during hot Johannesburg summers and warmer during sometimes harsh Gauteng winters. This reduces the need for air conditioning and heating and reduces the possible transmission of airborne diseases such as Legionnaires disease which can be associated with poorly maintained HVAC systems,” he says.

Tromp says the Westbury Clinic also demonstrates that social, economic and environmental value can be generated for local communities through a holistic approach to development.

“Local people were trained in the specific brick pattern employed and brickwork was done almost in its entirety by the local community,” she concludes.