HDR / Westmead Health Precinct, Sydney

The first stage of one of Sydney’s most ambitious health infrastructure projects was completed earlier this year

Words by Sophie Tolhurst

Project Info

Client: NSW Health Infrastructure
Dates: May 2014–March 2021 (stage 1)
Size: approx 85,000m2 (stage 1)
Cost: AU$1bn (stage 1)
Master plan, architectural design, clinical planning services: HDR
HDR project team: Ronald Hicks, national director health; Alan Boswell, design director; Joe Mihaljevic, project leader
Contractor: Multiplex
Landscape architects: Tract Consultants

LOCATED IN a fast-growing area of western Sydney, between the Parramatta suburb and Central Business District (CBD), the Westmead Health Precinct is one of Sydney’s largest university hospital precincts. Over 400,000m2, there are four hospitals, four medical research institutes and two university campuses. The redevelopment started in 2014, and now with the first of two phases completed this year, it represents the most significant health infrastructure project in New South Wales (NSW) to be delivered to date.

Design firm HDR carried the project from master plan through to completion, with architecture and design and clinical planning. HDR has extensive experience in this sector, having designed a number of health and education facilities across Australia, including the Sunshine Coast University Hospital, Liverpool Hospital and the award-winning Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

Accessible green spaces offer a quiet place to reflect and recharge
Accessible green spaces offer a quiet place to reflect and recharge

At the start, a brief was outlined between HDR, the Westmead Alliance (made up of medical centre, education, community and government stakeholders), patients, staff, caregivers and the community. This was developed over five years through workshops, discussions and simulations, and the process identified a number of priorities: creating a workable, liveable and accessible healthy city; the integration of healthcare, teaching and research; a focus on community engagement and the wellbeing of patients, caregivers and staff; and attracting staff, students, residents, researchers and visitors from all over the world.

At the heart of the precinct are the two new buildings completed in phase one: the Central Acute Services Building (CASB) and the Innovation Centre. These additions are integrated into the area through ‘strategic, design-led landscaping’, with links to new and existing public transport and creating a welcoming entry point to the precinct.

‘When it was conceived ten years ago’, HDR’s national director of health, Ronald Hicks, explains, ‘the level of integration we proposed was ahead of its time, almost unfathomable for stakeholders, but they supported the vision and the outcome has been incredibly positive.’

The precinct’s design was informed by the indigenous term yerrenin, meaning meeting
The precinct’s design was informed by the indigenous term yerrenin, meaning meeting

One of the aims of the project was to link the adult and children’s hospitals that have stood separately for 35 years, in order to share advanced high-quality facilities and improve connectivity and collaboration between doctors, nurses and other clinical staff.

The physical link between the two is made by the CASB. Its 14 storeys contain facilities for world-class clinical services as well as advanced research and development, including: two new emergency departments (one for adults, one for children); 25 digital operating theatres; education, training and research facilities on each floor; 1.5 floors for the University of Sydney; expanded imaging; pharmacy and logistics; over 300 patient rooms, many of which are single occupancy; and dedicated carer zones.

The integration between practice and teaching doesn’t just stem from the proximity between university and hospital areas; technology allows for the live streaming of procedures from the theatre floors to medical students in class. There is a pronounced focus on wellbeing throughout, with maximised natural light and views extending to the Sydney CBD.

The feature staircase of the Innovation Centre links social spaces, meeting spaces and flexible working areas
The feature staircase of the Innovation Centre links social spaces, meeting spaces and flexible working areas

The second major new building is the six-floor Innovation Centre, designed to support education and development of the latest clinical technologies and research, with capacity for future development of biomedical services. Conceived of as a hub for the precinct, the design of this building is informed by yerrenin, an indigenous term for meeting, with ‘bump spaces’ where staff and students can interact and share ideas. Inside a feature staircase wends its way up through a light-filled atrium, linking its various floors of activity; there is an exhibition space, social spaces and meeting spaces as well as flexible working on its top floor.

To cater for the large numbers of people using the precinct, public transport has been carefully planned, making new connections to the Western Sydney Light Rail, Sydney Metro West, cross-regional bus routes and connections with Westmead train station and Parramatta CBD. Westmead will be a terminus for the Parramatta Light Rail, due for competition in 2023, with two light rail stops within the precinct. The master plan ensures smooth circulation into the hospital for workers and visitors, while maintaining quick routes for emergency vehicles.

Another priority identified in the workshops was the desire to invoke the area’s indigenous culture within the design and link to the history and landscape of the area. This might be seen in the yerrenin concept of the Innovation Centre, but also in the landscaping of the site, creating pedestrian connections to nearby Parramatta Park and Toongabbie Creek, and the inclusion of indigenous art projects across the precinct. At the entrance to the two new buildings are Gumadagu Gurang (place of our ancestors), depicting the southern night skies through Aboroginal eyes and a 60m mural entitled The River.

These features and the landscaping of the precinct’s main forecourt are intended to establish the identity of the precinct as a whole. While undoubtedly busy, serving as the ‘crossroads of connectivity’ – a space for pick-up and drop-off, connections to public transport networks – it also hopes to establish a calm atmosphere. Providing a meeting place for staff, patients and visitors, the stone forecourt features benches with undulating wooden slatted back rests and planting.

Commenting on the success of the project, HDR’s director, Alan Boswell, said: ‘The design of the Westmead Health Precinct accomplishes more than just providing for the future of health provision in NSW [...] It develops a significant identity for Westmead Hospital as a pre-eminent teaching hospital at the cutting edge of science and technology. It has reinvigorated the urban fabric of the precinct, and it has re-engaged the community through good quality public space and connections.’ Though there is still another phase to go – encompassing refurbishments across the precinct – the project is said to have already inspired projects in Sydney’s Prince of Wales and Royal Prince Alfred hospitals.

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