Architecture studio Silver Thomas Hanley relied on large-scale glazing to introduce a theme of transparency and clarity into the design of The St John of God Hospital in Melbourne’s outer-suburban Berwick.

Daylight and amenity are well-understood factors in operating conditions, patient recovery and visitor and staff morale. Wrapped in an array of Viridian EVantage SuperBlue double glazed units, the St John of God Hospital, which overlooks the Princes Freeway, is as artful on the outside as it is fully functional and highly specified inside.

The generous double-height atrium at the entrance leads to the first level day-care reception area. Natural materials have been used for the interior fit-out and furnishings wherever possible. The theme of transparency continues beyond front-of-house from the infill glazing in the staircases, especially popular with staff, to the nuanced artwork of the pomegranate motif in Viridian’s digitised PixaGraphic feature glazing.

Rather than designing a healthcare space that was antiseptic or coldly utilitarian, the architects have focused on consistency and uniformity in elevation and plan. The graphic glazing-as-envelope yields identity and, most significantly, therapeutic daylight-filled interiors. The spacious effect is less a result of size than spatial economy whereby the absence of solid walls and cluttered joinery makes occupancy a pleasure, rather than pain.

Viridian's Vision magazine team spoke with project architect Ian Wong of Silver Thomas Hanley about the graphic energy and interior calm of this project. 

Vision: What are the key qualities you wanted to invest here?

Ian Wong: With 80% single patient bedrooms, the hospital required a large extent of perimeter glazing. Hospital corridors are often single loaded and devoid of natural light. By placing large windows and day rooms at the end of each corridor ‘wing’, patients and caregivers benefit from orientation and proximity to daylight around the building’s ‘edge’.

How does your glazing strategy form a synergy with the hospital’s aims?

All bedrooms maximise full-width windows, taking advantage of the magnificent views, especially south across the Princes Freeway and beyond across treetops. The healing benefits of daylight for patients can’t be underestimated. The glazing selection plays a key part in delivering this intent. This is demonstrated in the southern facade where triple-glazed window units were specified to address both thermal requirements and acoustics issues associated with the Princes Freeway. In all instances maximum views are maintained from patients’ bedrooms.

Your upper level breakout areas – or decks – for palliative care and new mothers are something of a sanctuary. Glazing doesn’t automatically come to mind where intense privacy is often needed.

The internal spaces optimise the use of natural light and landscaping with the aim of accelerating the healing process through provision of therapeutic terraces, together with a combination of colours and acoustics. The therapeutic terraces located on the upper levels comprise timber, concrete pavers and soft, colourful landscaping, which balance against the glazing panels that mirror subtle sky reflections.

The reflectivity of the EVantage SuperBlue also ensures the privacy you mention so that patients have this wonderful vista but at the same time know that no one outside can see in.

How have you tried to shape a building as professional yet approachable as possible?

While large for the region, the hospital is separated into distinct parts that give it an overall logic and help reduce its scale. The ground and first level forms the podium, which contains all acute and ambulatory care. This is wrapped with white aluminium panels, indented with a feature dark, metallic band. This treatment of the facade breaks down the scale of the building, offering a more intimate approach at the ground level. Perched above the podium is the in-patient unit tower, where the white aluminium panels are repeated as a picture frame around an intricate mosaic of clear glass and green-blue, colour-backed Viridian Seraphic glass panels. The horizontality of the building is book-ended on both ends by twin dark-charcoal precast stairs, with a slit of vertical windows running parallel through the podium, puncturing the mass of the structure. Internally, these windows at the end of the corridor present a ‘rest’ stop with views outwards.

Catering for one key group – patients – really means there is a huge flow-on benefit to everyone who occupies or visits the hospital.

That’s true. I think views from within and beyond really are indicative of the way this hospital connects patients and staff and, more broadly, to its setting. Light-filled dining rooms and lounges, wonderful views from operating theatres and careful positioning of courtyards and terraces. Despite the deep and complex planning, patients, visitors and caregivers are rarely far from a view of the outside, be it greenery, wide aerial views of Berwick, vistas or sky.

How does glazing contribute to the quality of the first – and lasting – impression?

The new main porte cochere is identified by a cantilevered canopy with a central column and large, double-height clad in EVantage SuperBlue glazing. It delivers quite a wonderful sense of arrival and occasion. A similar glass box within the large front facade glass box forms the airlock and main entry into the building and main foyer. Within the highly intimate foyer, a myriad of textures and materials provide a stark contrast against the large expanse of glass and aluminium panels of the sleek facade. Full height glazing provides ample light into the foyer, highlighting the range of other finishes including the perforated metal screens with the SJOG’s signature Pomegranate theme, which is also incorporated on other levels with Viridian’s digitally printed feature glazing. The arrival on Level 1 into the day procedures area more resembles a lounge than a hospital waiting room.

What about some of the less immediately obvious parts of the hospital?

There are eight operating theatres, a cardiac/vascular catheter laboratory, six birthing suites, 17 consulting rooms, chapel and pastoral care, and education and research facilities. Just to challenge ourselves, there’s also a 350-vehicle basement car park.

Viridian glass used for this project

External Windows: Double Glazed Units using Viridian EVantage SuperBlue

Spandrel: Double Glazed Units using Viridian Seraphic (Custom Colours)

Entry: Laminated Glass with Viridian EVantage SuperBlue and Viridian Seraphic Design 3mm White Dots

Internal Splashback: Viridian SpectraColour (Custom Colours)

Internal Feature Wall: Viridian PixaGraphic (Custom Design)

Images and text: Peter and Jenny Hyatt