April 2002

University of Hong Kong Faculty of Medicine

Advanced learning

Groundbreaking research into various areas of the medical field has long made the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Medicine a widely respected institution, not only in Hong Kong but around the world. Maintaining the quality of its output is not an easy task, though, particularly in view of the technological advances of recent years, which have rendered some of its facilities obsolete. The faculty was well aware of this, but an opportunity to develop a new and up-to-date facility did not present itself until recently, when the Northcote College of Education moved to Tai Po, thus freeing up a 16,900 sq m site conveniently located just a block away from the Li Shu Fan Building, the existing home of the faculty; and not far from the university's teaching hospital, Queen Mary Hospital.

With funds provided by the University Grants Committee, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and private donors, Percy Thomas Partnership (HK) Ltd designed the new medical complex which would consolidate all of HKU's medical facilities -- i.e. those housed in Li Shu Fan and others scattered over the campus -- under one roof.
        It was a challenging project: the complex had to be built on a relatively small site located on a steep slope, and the nature of the building meant that safety considerations must be paramount in the design.
        The two primary functions of the complex -- research and teaching -- gave rise to a complex with two connecting but distinctly different blocks. All laboratory facilities will be accommodated in a 12-storey laboratory block where advanced medical research will be carried out; while a nine-storey curvilinear non-laboratory block will house a hi-tech conference centre, a library, offices and seminar rooms. There will also be a two-level car park.
        According to Percy Thomas Partnership (HK) managing director Christopher Howe, safety was a key factor in the planning strategy for the laboratory building. Functions were zoned according to the level of risks associated with them, with facilities of a highly hazardous nature assigned an area at one end of the building and those posing the least risk at the other. The laboratories were divided into three categories, with category 1 being low-risk, category 2 being laboratories used for normal university research; and category 3 being the highest risk category. A progression from high risk to low risk was followed in their planning within the laboratory block, with the end assigned to high-risk functions determined by the building's orientation and circulation pattern, which also determined the vertical planning strategy for the building.
        The main teaching and student areas are located on the lower floors while the upper floors were allocated for clinical research, thus confining most of the student movement to the lower floors and keeping the laboratory areas relatively separate. Segregation is further enhanced by the creation of two separate entrances to the laboratory block leading to two lift cores, one at each end of the building. One leads directly to the clinical research centre on the upper floors while the other provides access to the pre-clinical research centre on the lower levels.
        Laboratories were distributed on either side of a main axis with a services spine down the middle, the arrangement being determined by the need to provide individual extracts for all the fume cupboards and biological safety cabinets. An extensive network of ducts will draw fumes from the fume cupboards to a two-storey-high plant room on the roof, where they will be expelled by ducts shielded by a wind scoop designed to encourage the exhaust to discharge vertically at a high level under any wind condition, instead of dispersing at a low level where wind turbulence will lead to pollution. According to Mr Howe, the comprehensive laboratory provisions have garnered the project worldwide attention.
        The main contractor, Dragages et Travaux Publics (HK) Ltd, was responsible for co-ordination of the building's services, including production of the combined services drawings. According to Mr Jean-Pierre Lefoul, Director of Building Works for Dragages, ease of maintenance was an important criterion in the choice and design of equipment. "For example, the drainage system consists of non-corrosive pipes which are epoxy-coated on the inside, to minimise ageing and avoid corrosion. The main electrical and mechanical (E&M) services spine is located outside the laboratories, each served by its own sub-circuit, so that maintenance can be carried out without the laboratories being disturbed."
        To accommodate all the building services required, the laboratory block features a floor-to-floor height of 5 m. Dragages used steel formwork to construct the complex to achieve a better quality finish. Steel shutters were also better able to withstand the pressure of concreting 5 m high walls in the laboratory block, said Mr Lefoul.
        With about 20 end-user departments, flexibility is an important consideration. This was provided by a modular design based on a 1.5 m grid and the use of gypsum board partitions which were screwed into place, making them easy to dismantle and move whenever the layout has to be changed. The support equipment corridor down the middle ensure that any changes can be accommodated without extensive alterations.
        Because of the highly sensitive nature of the laboratory work carried out in these rooms, their finishings must also conform to extremely stringent international hygiene standards. The walls, for example, were sprayed with a self-sterilising coating which, unlike ordinary plaster, does not harbour bacteria and is capable of withstanding aggressive environments. The air-conditioning system was fitted with special filters while the floor was finished with a continuous sheet of welded and sealed vinyl membrane.
        The international procurement operation required special attention, said Mr Lefoul. "Materials for the project, including the specialist laboratory equipment, had to be purchased from overseas suppliers in many countries. As any disruption in the delivery schedule would have been disastrous for the tight construction programme, we had to keep the international communication lines open 24 hours a day."
        With the laboratory block tucked up against the slope, the rest of the site was opened up to the view of the East Lamma Channel to the southwest. Taking advantage of this, the architect designed a semi-circular block with continuous glass walls on the lower levels where those taking a break from lectures or conferences can enjoy the sweeping sea view.
        There are four lecture theatres in a semi-circular arrangement reflected by the building's external design. Depending on the size of the function, they can be either combined or partitioned to serve separate audiences. The theatres are equipped with an advanced audio-visual system which can be hooked up to a network both within the complex and beyond. It will allow events being carried out in the theatres to be displayed in the departmental seminar rooms as well as cases being treated at the Queen Mary Hospital to be shown. Scientists conducting research overseas will also be able to share their studies with those in the theatres through an international link-up.
        The architect has designed a building which steps down towards the southeast, creating open courtyards that let daylight into the interior of the offices. Mr Howe said energy efficiency was a feature of the design that integrates architectural and engineering systems whilst providing a safe environment. Glass with superior thermal performance was selected, to make sure the external envelope would perform well in this regard.
        As a result of road widening works near the site, some trees were destined to be felled. The university, however, was keen to save those which could be saved. Since they could not remain where they were, it meant choosing hardy ones capable of withstanding the stress of being moved to a new home.
        After an assessment, botanical specialists from the project team determined that a banyan tree had the potential to survive. This entailed cutting back its top to slow its growth, then trimming back its roots an equivalent amount. Dragages constructed a large steel frame around the roots of the tree and a 300-tonne crane was used to lift and place it in a 7 m diameter tree pot formed by sheet piles. It was left to get used to this new environment for another season before the move took place. Finally, the 55-tonne banyan was slowly moved a distance of 80 m to its new location by the main entrance of the medical complex.
        Although the construction took only 23 months, planning for the over 50,000 sq m complex started way back in 1995, showing the extent of the challenge presented by the creation of an advanced medical research facility equipped to function in the information age. The new complex will be ready for occupation in March 2002.

The University of Hong Kong

Percy Thomas Partnership (HK) Ltd

Dragages et Travaux Publics (HK) Ltd
main contractor

Meinhardt (Hong Kong) Ltd
structural engineer

Parsons Brinckerhoff Asia Ltd
e&m engineer

Levett & Bailey
quantity surveyor

-- Building Journal