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Ospedale dell'Angelo (Nuovo Ospedale di Mestre)

Mestre-Venice, Italy
Emilio Ambasz, Hon. FAIA

Emilio Ambasz & Associates and Studio Altieri turn to nature and the sun for an innovative hospital environment.

By Paula Deitz

At the time that Alvar Aalto completed the Paimio Sanatorium in a forested area of Finland in 1933, sunshine and fresh air offered the only known cure for tuberculosis patients. Hence Aalto designed the narrow terraces facing east for those afflicted with this disease. Even though medical care now relies on pharmacological or surgical treatments for a range of illnesses, exposure to nature, including landscaping, is again considered both a physical and psychological boost for hospital patients.

Owing to Emilio Ambasz’s long-standing reputation for fusing architecture and landscape into a single entity, it made sense that the Argentina-born architect would design (in association with the Studio Altieri) a green hospital near Venice, Italy — the Ospedale dell’Angelo (the Guardian Angel’s Hospital) in Mestre.

Ospedale dell'Angelo (Nuovo Ospedale di Mestre)
Photo © Enrico Cano

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Program

The development consortium Regione Veneto undertook the project with the expectation that in time it would recap its investment and hand the 1,265,000-square-foot hospital over to the regional government. The building, with 335 double-occupancy rooms and 10 single ones, sought to provide a sense of optimum well-being to its patients, plus offer sophisticated research and technological services. Complementing the hospital is the Banca dell’Occhio (Eye Bank), an ophthalmological laboratory specializing in eye transplants and stem-cell research, which is located on a corner of the property (see www.architecturalrecord.com).

Solution

Unlike urban hospitals, Ospedale dell’Angelo stands isolated in a landscaped park of its own, with its striking, seven-story, slanted-glass facade sheltering an interior palm court. Circumnavigated by ring roads, the park includes two lakes for runoff water and irrigation, and merges with the building’s bermed perimeters that obliterate sounds of nearby trains for those convalescing within.

Once a visitor passes through the Venetian-red entrance facade of the main hospital, he or she arrives in the garden among island beds bisected by a serpentine wood walkway. Like its 19th-century predecessors, Ambasz’s winter garden is also a social space:  an urban piazza, with a shop, restaurant, and chapel on the ground floor, and a balcony walkway above leading to the open waiting room for outpatient services. Luxurious plantings (nonallergic) — including palm and banana trees, magnolias, begonias, geraniums, ferns, and variegated grasses — create a moist fragrance perceptible even on the balcony and in the waiting room.

An inverted ziggurat section allows floors of patient rooms facing southwest to overlook this interior landscape, while additional rooms on the northeast side are edged by planted balconies arranged in a stepped-back formation. The patient rooms occupy opposite sides of a central core housing operating and treatment rooms and punctuated by small, skylighted interior atriums. Framed in steel and precast concrete, these floors sit on a platform of poured-in-place concrete containing car parking, administration, operating rooms, and laboratories.

The 660-foot-long southwest facade, dubbed the “glass sail,” is composed of 11,000 trapezoidal panes of different dimensions, held in aluminum frames over a gridded steel structure. To save on energy by making the most of natural ventilation, 700 mechanized openings, connected to temperature sensors, are placed at the bottom and top of the glazed facade.

In all of the patient rooms, full-height window walls are fitted with a “smart glass” system that regulates ventilation and heat dispersion. The windows not only suffuse the rooms with natural light, but allow patients to look out on the atrium’s palm trees or the cotoneaster and yellow primrose on the exterior balconies.

Fostering this sort of direct relationship between patients and horticulture, says Dr. Giorgia Marcato, director of medicine for the hospital, can both diminish pain and reduce the duration of hospital stays. 

Commentary

Given that hospitals usually maintain basic design standards to fulfill their mission, Ospedale dell’Angelo has gone beyond that, taking a major step forward in connecting its patients with the natural world. But while patients luxuriate in daylight and green surroundings, the doctors’ own offices, tucked under the five levels of patient rooms, are somewhat in the dark, according to Dr. Marcato.

In addition, the plantings of the palm court, selected locally for variety and long-term survival, could be more attractive if arranged like underplantings in a forest rather than garden swaths of one plant after another. For that matter, the surrounding park is a lost opportunity, with only sparse plantings of individual trees and no overall design. Although the site was originally completely rural, since construction began, signs of commercial buildup are increasing.

Still, decades after Emilio Ambasz exhibited his Arcadian Berm House at the Houses for Sale show in New York City’s Leo Castelli Gallery in 1980, this large-scale work expresses his architectural goal “to give poetic form to the pragmatic.”

Gross square footage:
1,265,000 sq. ft.

Total construction cost:
Euros 500,000,000

Location:
Venice, Italy

Owner: Regione Veneto

Architect:
Emilio Ambasz, Hon. FAIA
Emilio Ambasz & Associates, Inc.
200 W 90TH Street, Suite 11A
New York, NY 10024
Tel 212 580 3263
Fax 212 580 3218

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