A New Orleans-based hospital is rebuilt, embracing unprecedented standards of flexibility and off-the-grid resilience

As American cities continue to experience unprecedented extreme weather, disaster prone cities will gravitate towards smarter urban planning and resilient architecture out of necessity. Perhaps no other city understands this need better than Louisiana’s New Orleans, which sustained hurricane Katrina in 2005, resulting in some of the worst infrastructural damage and loss of life experienced by any American city.

While the primary reason for death was drowning, the catastrophe revealed how hospitals are particularly vulnerable. An intricate report evidences that over 120 individuals died in hospitals during or shortly after the hurricane struck, many of them being veterans and elderly patients. Seven of New Orleans’ 16 hospitals sustained power outages and irreparable architectural damage. In reaction to this, many designers started to think and plan from a worst-case scenario perspective. Project Legacy (aka Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System Replacement Medical Center Project) is one such initiative. With a vision of “being a model for health care of the future it will set the standards for patient-centered care, flexibility, and sustainability”.

Taking into account new parameters for future potential environmental disasters, Project Legacy is working to rebuild a wrecked Louisiana hospital – the Veteran Affairs facility – on a different piece of real estate in downtown New Orleans that will cover 1.6 million-square-feet with innovative design features that protect patients and staff in the case extreme winds and flooding:

  • Single-occupancy rooms can be converted to double-occupancy.
  • The building envelope can withstand at least a Category 3 storm.
  • Mission-critical components are at least 21 feet above flood elevation.
  • The emergency department ramp doubles as a boat launch.
  • A million-gallon rainwater storage tank operates cooling systems and reduces city water dependency.
  • The parking garage can accommodate Blackhawk helicopters.
  • Primary utility distribution is on the fourth level to avoid flood damage.
  • The central energy plant stores 320,000 gallons of fuel, enough to generate one week of power.
  • An 6,000 sq ft warehouse stores food, water, and emergency supplies.

Their design strategy can be summarized in the way the architect decided to “turn the building upside down”; lead architectural designer Doug Parris explains to BusinessWeek that:

We basically built an upside-down hospital. We flipped what you would typically see, so that not only are all the services coming to the building – heating, cooling, water – on the fourth floor, but also supplies and removal of waste move back and fourth on the upper concourse.

Thanks to the availability of backup electrical power and potable water, the new hospital will also have the capacity to support 1,000 patients and staff for five days should it be in a situation where it goes “off the grid”.

Source: BusinessWeek, Project Legacy, NBBJ Architects

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