Tambacounda Hospital is the only hospital covering an extensive region of eastern Senegal, 400 kilometres south of the capital, Dakar. It serves 100,000 inhabitants of the city of Tambacounda, the hottest city on earth, and more than a million people from the surrounding area. Many also come from neighbouring Mali, whose border is about 90 minutes away.
The hospital is a vital medical facility serving the poorest region of Senegal, a country where about half of its 15 million people live in poverty. Until now, family members have waited in overheated corridors and sick children often have to share their beds with others. Facing spiraling demand and with facilities choked by patients and visitors there was an urgent need for the hospital to expand.
At first glance, the client and the architect appear to have been mismatched. Hailing from wealthy and sophisticated Basel, Manuel Herz Architects would seem to be a world away from impoverished west Africa. The firm’s appreciation and engagement with the key issues, however, has delivered an outstanding solution, helping to alleviate overcrowded wards and reduce congestion in communal areas.
The 3,000 square-metre two-level extension provides paediatric and maternity clinics in the same building. The addition has a segmented, serpentine shape, echoing the rounded forms of the existing hospital buildings. The facility has been located to the north of the original paediatric clinic and twists around it, then changes direction to create a new, semi-enclosed, north-facing courtyard.
The shade this configuration provides has given visitors a more open setting in which to wait for news of their loved ones. The new layout is sensual but also extremely practical because it means that almost no trees had to be cut down to allow construction of the new buildings.
On the ground floor lie the main parts of the maternity ward and the operations unit. On the floor above are additional maternity rooms and a pediatric clinic. The former pediatric facility will be converted into a home, office, and consultation space for the new clinics. The original building is connected to the new extension by means of a short covered walkway.
The facade of the building appears as a series of archways fronted by perforated bricks, which also suggest sinuous ‘S’ shapes and allow cooling air to blow through the building's interior, helping to mitigate the worst effects of Tambacounda’s intensely hot climate. To create this the designers drew on the traditional mashrabiya – a type of window used in Arabic palaces and houses that dates back as far as the 12th century.
The hospital project was funded by an arts organisation based in the United States. Manuel Herz Architects was the unanimous choice, based on its design skill, grasp of the practical realities at the site and the firm’s humanitarian engagement and it has used the small budget to maximum effect.
The Tambacounda Hospital project continues principal Manuel Herz’s strong interest and connection with Africa. Besides his work as a practicing architect he researches, lectures and publishes on the relationship between architecture and nation building, and on refugee camps. His books include 'From Camp to City - The Refugee Camps of the Western Sahara' and 'African Modernism - Architecture of Independence'.