Most people have firm ideas of what a hospital is like, but the team designing the new Children’s Hospital at Alder Hey in Liverpool put all pre-conceptions aside and determined to design something genuinely new, radical and patient friendly.
Even the name ‘Hospital’ wasn’t good enough. They instead designed a ‘Health Park’ where the hospital is integrated into its parkland surroundings and the community it serves.
The final design, part of a PFI process, came from a consortium of John Laing, Laing O’Rourke, Interserve and BDP Architects, although they were inspired by a drawing by 15-year-old Eleanor Brogan following one of the NHS’s biggest-ever public consultations.
Peter Ward, John Laing's director of healthcare projects, said: “We wanted a hospital that felt so different to visiting a 'normal hospital', to look like a really exciting building as well as integrating with a park in a way that no other hospital has ever done.
The first decision was to put all the 'hot' stuff – accident and emergency, surgery departments and so on, on the lower floors, leading into an atrium that forms the heart of the hospital, which is a big open space, full of visually-interesting things for children like a treehouse and beams like the ribs of a dinosaur."
Three quarters of patients will be in single rooms rather than the 18-bed Nightingale wards of the old Alder Hey Hospital and there’s an outdoor balcony overlooking the park on each floor.
The importance of light and airiness was absolutely vital to the whole design concept and this meant the doors for each of the patient’s rooms had to be very special. Each had to be large for ease of access for beds and equipment, glazed for brightness and airiness, have privacy blinds for examinations or just occasional solitude, and finally they had to be easily opened and closed by a child.
One or two of these features can be achieved by door suppliers without too many problems, but finding a door that met them all was a major project. They also specified that most of the doors would have to be manually operated as automatics would create their own problems of power supplies, battery back-ups, fire alarm linkage, and tying in with the Building Management System. While that may be relatively simple for a handful of doors, it was prohibitively expensive for over 200 doors of this size and specification and potential issues of reliability and maintenance could be anticipated.
After an extensive search, only one company came up with an effective, practical solution and that was Axis Automatic Entrance Systems based in Northampton.
Doors up to 1800mm wide and 2700mm high are not that excessive, even for glazed doors. However, the Venetian blinds had to be integrated into the doors for infection control and to avoid expensive cleaning and maintenance. So these were sealed between two panes of glass with magnetic controls to avoid an infection bridge into the glazing gap. That just left the problem of opening and closing, with some of the doors now weighing up to 160kg each.
At this point Axis turned to Accuride International, also based in Northampton, and together they developed the sliding mechanism for what has become the Axis Flo-Motion Door System.Using re-circulating ball guides on a special low-resistance linear track, the doors slide so easily that an ingenious damper had to be designed to absorb the energy of the heavy doors so they did not slam into the end of the track. The door sets are fabricated using extruded aluminium profiles and include a self-supporting goalpost frame.
Each sliding door is operated with minimal effort using fingertip control on back to back nylon handles. A maximum of 22N had been specified as the opening or closing force required and actual testing of the doors in situ showed them all to be well under that figure with an average of less than 10N. An astonishing performance for doors of this size and weight.
David Houghton, NHS health park project manager at Alder Hey, said “The extra-large, easy-opening, glazed sliding doors have transformed the way single rooms work to deliver healthcare with a choice of privacy or social interaction when required without the loss of clinical observation.”
Other features designed into Flo-Motion Doors are aimed at making any future repair and maintenance as simple as possible. A neat cassette system can be used for replacing sets of recirculating ball guides without having to dismount the track. A hinged pelmet is fitted over all the door tracks and this can be fixed in a raised position for easy access by a single maintenance engineer.
In recognition of the professional and imaginative response by Axis to the door design brief, main contractor Laing O’Rourke presented Axis managing director, Rob Brunero, with its Northern Innovation Award.
Brunero said: “I’m really proud of the whole team at Axis, not just for the development of these doors, but also the installation programme, which went pretty smoothly and finished on time. Our colleagues at Accuride have been excellent too with their expertise in sliding mechanisms and their enthusiasm and willingness to help.”
As well as the 200+ manual Flo-Motion doors, Axis also installed 11 large Manusa automatic doors with hermetic seals for infection control and an automatic passage gate for the main reception area.