Kandang Kerbau Hospital
Text by Eugene Tan
A women's and children's hospital, comprising two L-shaped 6 storey towers and one 4 storey podium, the steely spaceship-like exterior belies a much warmer soul.
Kandang Kerbau came to be called such from the predominance of cattle-sheds in the area. Kandang is a fenced-in place or enclosure. This toponym was emphasized by the cattle-sheds along Sungei road of the late "cattle king" Kader Sultan. The place-name was also given to the local police station, market and bridge.
Since its founding in 1858, Kandang Kerbau Hospital (now known as KK Women's and Children's Hospital) has evolved into a regional leader in Obstetrics, Gynaecology, Paediatrics and Neonatology. Today, the 830-bed hospital is a referral centre providing tertiary services to handle high-risk conditions in women and children. With over 600 specialists operating on its premises, the architecture needs to be highly utilitarian, yet inviting to patients.
Sited on a 4.8-hectare plot at the junction of Kampong Java Road and Bukit Timah Road, KK Hospital is a massive medical facility. Two separate 6-storey L-shaped towers, one housing the women's ward and the other the children's ward, sit on a central 4-storey podium block hosting the shared Diagnostic and Treatment facilities, and the visitor and lift lobbies. This layout , together with the siting of nurses' station at the junction of the L-shape blocks, maximises efficiency and produces comprehensive connections that enables good supervision, and soothes patron anxiety.
The wider and heavier concrete podium is well proportioned, generating an overall image of strength and stability, akin to a healthy person. Thin sleek metal sun-shading fins and taut-edged concrete fins are prominent facade elements furthering the ideas of shelter and security. The tier podium softens the merging of building and landscape, while setting the wards away from the busy traffic along Bukit Timah Road.
Emphasis on maintenance practicality produced apparent lack in the appropriate usage of interior colours and material tactility to generate a home-like experience to relief patient trauma. However, the large windows in the wards together with the L-shape layout, provides psychologically beneficial views.
Visually, permutations and rhythmic compositions of the design brings to mind architect Tay Kheng Soon's earlier manifesto on tropical architecture, yet one can also see a mix of spaces which feel both strong yet playful, suggesting that efficiency or climate was not the design's primary driver. In the shifting of scales and degrees of exposure as one ascends from parking lot, to lush gardens, to public lobby, and then to the medical spaces, the architecture seems to appeal to a different form of occupant comfort, one that has to do with psychology more than the environment.