manuel herz works with local community in senegal to build hospital with lattice brickwork

May 06, 2021

architect manuel herz has completed the new maternity and paediatric hospital in tambacounda, a city in eastern senegal. as the only major hospital in the region, the project is a vital resource, servicing around 20,000 patients per year from the surrounding area. herz’s structure comprises a two-story building in a curvilinear form, which brings two clinics — paediatrics and maternity — together under the same roof, and offers approximately 150 hospital beds. meanwhile, the length of the building allows for the smooth circulation of staff and patients and accommodates multiple communal spaces — both between the rooms and in the courtyards formed by the building’s bends.

the project was conceived by the josef and anni albers foundation and le korsa, a non-profit organization established by nicholas fox weber (director of the josef and anni albers foundation) to encompass the philanthropic initiatives of the foundation in rural senegal. key projects have included the ‘thread’ cultural center and the village elementary school in fass, both designed by toshiko mori architect.

‘with our many projects in eastern senegal, we at le korsa felt that it was unconscionable, and unnecessary, for three premature babies to be put on a small surface less than a meter square, with a light bulb hanging over them, instead of in a proper incubator,’ says nicholas fox weber. ‘dilapidated structures, inadequate plumbing, and a grim atmosphere: surely it was possible to do better. and so we have worked with the brilliant architect manuel herz, selected in a competition of first-rate architects, on a building that functions beautifully, is upbeat in appearance, deflects the brutal temperatures of the region, and provides a joyous, inspiring, salubrious setting to all who enter it.’

since his commission to design the project in 2017, manuel herz collaborated at all stages with local leader dr. magueye ba. the duo depended upon the expertise of the community, working almost exclusively with craftsmen and engineers from tambacounda and the surrounding villages — thereby helping to provide employment and support for the rural economy.

‘from the very start, it has been a process based on collaboration with the wonderful doctors and staff at the hospital, with the amazing team of the albers foundation and le korsa, and with a fabulous group of builders and craftsmen around dr. magueye ba as a general contractor,’ comments manuel herz. ‘this collaborative process has led to designs that were surprising, that are much more interesting, better adapted to the local conditions and more beautiful than any single-authored project could have delivered. building in tambacounda has taught me so much for my future architectural work, not only on the african continent, but anywhere in the world.’

image © iwan baan, courtesy of the josef and anni albers foundation and le korsa

the hospital includes several passive climate design innovations to combat the challenges posed by the extremities of the local weather, and to help forgo the need for air conditioning. for example, the lattice-like brickwork — a prototype of which was expanded to build a small new school — blocks the hot sun, facilitates air circulation, and lends the hospital its distinctive recurrent visual motif. meanwhile, the building’s narrow width of just seven meters (23 feet) means that all rooms can be cooled naturally through cross ventilation. a second roof covers the primary roof of the extension, repelling most of the direct sunlight and creating a chimney effect which draws the heat upwards and out of the rooms below.

in addition, herz and his wife have designed a playground, the first ever built in the city of tambacounda. a sensitivity to the local landscape has also been a key facet of this multi-dimensional project, with herz’s design endeavoring to create as little disruption as possible to the local trees. following the completion of the hospital, herz will build staff quarters to help attract more doctors from the city, in a design inspired by a print by anni albers.

at the upcoming venice architecture biennale, manuel herz will present ‘the many lives of tambacounda’, an installation exploring the multiple narratives and lives that the hospital is embedded within. stay tuned for more details and see our ongoing coverage of the 2021 venice biennale here.

project info:

name: tambacounda maternity and pediatric hospital location: tambacounda, senegal client: josef and anni albers foundation / le korsa architect: manuel herz architects project team: manuel herz, alexis schulman, moussa belkacem, panagiota alevizou project management: massamba camara, matthias persson, allegra itsoga, andrew seguin contractor: magueye ba site supervision: cheikh mbacke diasse engineering: seydou thiaw, africa group ingénieries photography and videos: iwan baan surface: 3,000 sqm completion: may 2021