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Designed after Da Vinci

Drawings of the dissected human body inspire a new anatomy laboratory complex at Siriraj Hospital.

Publication Date : 31-10-2012


The design brief for Sri Savarindhira Building, a new 15-storey teaching hospital complex at Siriraj, comprised a large anatomy laboratory with several smaller ones, along with an auditorium, lecture rooms, medical informatics and supporting facilities.

Working with hospital planners, Architects 110 Co and SJA+3D Co, the first thing that came to my mind when the anatomy laboratory was mentioned were the sketches of the dissected human body by Leonardo da Vinci five centuries earlier.

As the building design developed and complicated space planning requirements and engineering took over, the initial momentary thought of the sketches must have been already well embedded in my mind for they resurfaced in the design of the building, in particular the front elevation. Like the human anatomy drawings, the building is opened up "surgically" to reveal the physiological structure behind.

The association with corpses and death is at the same time counteracted by a parallel imagery of life and joy. Indeed, in keeping with the current trend in hospital design, this project replaces the conventional sombre image with one of light, air and greenery. Reflecting also the end users - the medical students - the structure is full of colour and playfulness. It is, in effect, an architecture for the young.

With the design that allows cross ventilation and air convection, a constant breeze penetrates the entire building. This is especially evident in the four-storey high hallway, a space which continues up to an open well in the roof. Here, there is a vertical air flow which helps to dissipate the residual formalin vapour emanating from the laboratories. Other special features are the "hanging gardens" on the fourth and sixth levels for use by people working on the upper floors of the building.

The new building is located on a five-rai plot where the old four-storey anatomy building used to stand. It is surrounded by tall buildings, except on the east where Chao Phraya River can be seen over tennis courts and a low-rise building.

The 15-storey structure is in reinforced concrete. The total floor area, including a basement, is 65,000 square metres. On the ground floor, there are canteens, a savings co-operative and a bank. Upstairs are a modern auditorium with 600 seats and lecture theatres. The main anatomy laboratory, with more than 100 dissecting tables, is lodged in the transfer floor, a space occupied by giant concrete trusses spanning over the auditorium below.

On the floors above are located more laboratories, classrooms, an IT centre, anatomy, chemistry, pharmacy and physiology department offices, complete with a workshop for making models and preparing materials for use in classes.

Design of the above anatomy building began in 2004. It took seven years of perseverance on the part of the design team to translate the wild sketches into a real building.

The year construction was completed, in 2011, coincided with the time when a great deal of interest in Leonardo da Vinci was being revived. I suppose it actually began with "The Da Vinci Code", followed by numerous exhibitions and publications in several countries.

Meanwhile, the Leonardo da Vinci gallery at the Milan Science and Technology Museum spurred a travelling exhibition of the models of inventions to the major capitals of the world. The same year saw a special show on other scientific works by the master in Milan, and a well-curated display of his anatomy drawings in London, at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

Leonardo da Vinci, artist, inventor of machines, including those for flight, scientist, geometrician, astronomer, anatomist, and hydraulic and military engineer, was also an artist and an architect.

Most people, however, only associate him with the Mona Lisa. Few realise that as a painter he only produced 23 canvases in his whole life. As for architecture, one building is held to be of his design - the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione in Todi, a little town just north of Rome.

The anatomy laboratory complex at Siriraj Hospital, in a way, can be regarded as a Da Vinci building in that I merely served as a "medium" so that his sketches may be re-interpreted architecturally in our time.

Sumet Jumsai, architect and painter, was leader of the design team for Sri Savarindhira Building, Siriraj Hospital.


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