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Completing the AZ Sint-Maarten with pride and modesty

Testimony of a 10 year-journey by a project director.

These last months, I met a lot of people at the opening festivities for the new AZ Sint-Maarten General Hospital. Mostly, they were admiring the result of our work. There was also some criticism on a surprising note. Most of them indicated we ought to be more sincerely proud of what we accomplished in this project. I believe they make a good point. In defense, working for 10 years on the same project can make you blind in a way, as if you’d never cleaned your glasses to see the entire project. Let me try to respond to this criticism, in quickly summing up the key aspects of this project.

Working for 10 years on the same project can make you blind in a way, as if you’d never cleaned your glasses to see the entire project.

In the summer of 2007, the team of VK Architect & Engineers completed the preliminary competition design of this project, and won the competition, to start designing the hospital in January 2008. Our project scope included architecture, master planning, project management during design phase, façade engineering and acoustics. Contractors started building the hospital by the end of 2013 and the new hospital welcomes its first patient mid-October 2018.

Through the years, the key-words of our 2007 design became common practice. We are happy to have seen this evolution. These key-words were (and are):

  • healing environment through good architecture: clear legibility, natural way-finding by means of strong images, nature, LIGHT;
  • evidence-based sustainable design: our solar protection façade perfectly withstood the heatwaves of July 18, because our simulations of 2008 anticipated this behavior;
  • functional and adaptive design: tailor-made for the hospital’s new medical organization and flexible during the past 10 years of medical evolution and the years to come.
  • good architecture: common sense good design

All of this was realized in time and within budget. The budget was defined by the financial criteria of the subsidizing authorities on one hand, and the programmatic and technical ambitions of the hospital on the other hand. We managed to maximize the design and offer value for money. This was made possible through VK’s cost management during the design phase and the strong cost management by PB Calconsult and the hospital during the execution phase.

The sum-up of the keys to success does little credit to the work that went into it, every day.

The keys to success of this project have already been cited on several occasions. The list that follows does little credit to the work that went into it, every day.

  • teamwork between the hospital, designers, contractors, subcontractors, manufacturers …
  • strong responsible organizations behind the teams
  • the right people in the right place, with the skills and the ambition to learn fast and to work together

The key-tools that helped to get these results, were:

  • BIM as a practical tool: adopting early, but keeping our feet on the ground
  • Know-how and learning abilities of the organization within the team

Only through the combination of all of these factors did we manage, all together, to get to this result. I feel fortunate to have been part of this enterprise, as project manager and cost manager for the team of VK Architects & Engineers.

I’m aware that all of the above-mentioned aspects don’t seem that revolutionary or innovative. You might call it plain good sense.

I’m aware that all of the above-mentioned aspects don’t seem that revolutionary or innovative. You might call it plain good sense. But as the earlier mentioned “critics” surely gave to understand, managing all of these aspects on this scale was a daily challenge and far from obvious.

In all modesty, we designed and realized to the best of our abilities merely a tool for the hospital, for them to provide healthcare to the best of their abilities in a continuously changing world. As the design proved, in the 10 years of its development, that it was prepared for evolutions in healthcare, we are convinced it will keep supporting changes for the years to come.

We wish AZ Sint-Maarten all the best in their new home and we thank the team of AZ Sint-Maarten for the very good collaboration.

arch. Erik Vereecken
project director VK Architects & Engineers