Assi – Ahvenisto Hospital
Assi is a unique project by Finnish standards – Sweco employees play a broad role in designing the most human hospital in the world
Rescue vehicles and hospital signs guiding people to the top of the hill are a familiar sight next to the nature reserve of Ahvenisto in Hämeenlinna, as the main building of the current Kanta-Häme Central Hospital has been a part of the landscape of the Ahvenisto hill since 1979.
After 40 years, the hospital building has come to a point where it requires renovation, and the leap made in specialised health care has tightened the requirements for hospital buildings and their technology. Instead of repairing the old building, a more appropriate way of meeting the needs of a modern hospital is by building a new central hospital.
In typical hospital projects, parts of the old building are dismantled and replaced, or the old building is extended with an extra wing. In this case, the 74,000-square-metre central hospital will be moved to a new location. Ahvenisto Hospital, also known as Assi, follows the campus model, in which separate buildings are connected to each other in a functional manner. It has become a modern model used in hospital construction around the world. By Finnish standards, Assi is a unique project with an ambitious goal: to become the most human hospital in the world.
“We want interaction in the hospital to be as smooth as possible. The facilities are designed to make the hospital feel like a human place to customers. Of course, the hospital also has to function better than the current one. The principle of construction is a functional, safe and healthy building,” says Project Director Petrus Kukkonen from the Kanta-Häme Hospital District.
Users at the centre of wide-scale planning
The Ahvenisto Hospital Alliance comprises the Kanta-Häme Hospital District, Skanska, Sweco and the architect consortium Team Integrated, which includes AW2 Architects, Harris-Kjisik and Sweco Architects.
Sweco is in charge of the hospital’s structural and building services engineering, logistics planning and user-oriented design, while Sweco Architects are a part of Team Integrated, which is responsible for architecture and interior design. The project is characterised by a human approach and customer orientation, and users are involved in the planning process.
“We support the alliance’s project management in the practical implementation. Involving users requires a systematic approach, leadership and organisation. We’ve had dozens, if not hundreds, of active users helping with the project,” says Kaisa Narvio from Sweco. In the project, Narvio has worked as Sweco’s project manager in logistics planning and user-oriented design and been in charge of user involvement together with the client.
In practice, a hospital function such as cataract surgery is transformed from user experiences into square metres, facility needs and equipment lists. The hospital user is defined broadly: in addition to patients, nurses and doctors, the definition also covers parties such as institutional cleaners, security guards, taxi drivers and transport companies.
“Customers, i.e. patients, have been involved in the planning from the start. Every group of users includes a customer representative so that we can examine the facilities and operations from their point of view,” Kukkonen adds.
The central hospital is ready for future technology
According to Niko Purola, who is in charge of the building services engineering by Sweco, the hospital environment will support the promotion of digitalisation and be based on service platforms and technology of the future. The hospital will be equipped with a comprehensive 5G network that can be used to locate patients and equipment in the future.
“The space reservations for building services are greater than in prior comparable projects. None of the completed hospitals yet feature a similar solution,” Purola says.
As part of the logistics planning, the hospital environment will be equipped with robotics, conveyors and storage automation solutions typically used in industry. The plans for Assi include one of the tallest automated storage systems in Finland, which will save valuable floor space.
In terms of its complexity, the hospital project is similar to planning a small city. Along the way, this small city will live and there may be changes to facilities and their usage. According to Kimmo Fabrin, Sweco’s responsible structural engineer, special attention has been paid in the structural engineering to the adaptability of load-bearing structures as well as future operations and equipment acquisitions.
The exceptional circumstances have proved the alliance’s agility
In an alliance project, the risks and possibilities are shared between the partners. According to Fabrin, the initial situation alone already makes cooperation open. The parties, each with different backgrounds, have found shared approaches and a common work pace.
“In the building services engineering, we provided background support for other engineering fields and the architects in particular. With the contractor and cost accounting team, we weighed different implementation options to find the most sensible structural solutions, which has been very fruitful,” Fabrin says.
Sweco was involved in Finland’s first hospital alliance in Kainuu. This experience was necessary when the alliance switched from working in the ‘big room’ to remote work. However, the exceptional circumstances did not stop the alliance from working, and the large-scale project was continued remotely.
“The alliance has demonstrated its strength through the contribution of the parties to the development work. This brings about a group dynamic in which thoughts and ideas fly. The development phase had its challenges, but we sought innovative solutions for them. Well-planned is half done, but an alliance may get even further,” says Skanska Talonrakennus Oy’s Project Director and the alliance’s Project Manager Kari Sundelin.
“In order to succeed, we need to have a shared understanding of the objectives and work together to achieve them. We have now picked up a good wind in our sails. We have a functional hospital where space is utilised efficiently. Everyone is waiting for the plans to be ready for implementation and for the new hospital to start taking shape next to the old one,” Kukkonen adds.
The alliance’s development phase ended in January 2021, when the parties signed an agreement on the implementation phase. The current estimate is that the new hospital – the most human in the world – will be completed by 2026.