Working with Chris O’Brien Lifehouse (Camperdown, Australia), HDR Rice Daubney sought to create a comprehensive nonprofit cancer center in Sydney that would fulfill the vision of the late Chris O’Brien, a professor and medical oncologist who died of a malignant head tumor in 2009.

Among the goals were an integrated treatment center that would provide public and private patients with everything they needed in one place, including ambulatory care, allied health, complementary therapies, and psycho-social support. The design team also wanted to make the 430,000-square-foot building on the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital campus feel conceptually enclosing and protective without being introverted.

Ronald Hicks, principal and head of health and research, HDR Rice Daubney (Sydney), says this was achieved through a series of external perforated screens, patterned fritted glass, and a façade that’s layered to look like two clear planes defined by a recessed glazed slot.

“From the exterior, passersby are allowed limited, controlled glimpses of the interior—never compromising internal functionality, but attempting to demystify what the treatment center is all about,” he says.

While providing visual interest on the outside, these exterior materials also filter light and provide dynamic patterns across interior surfaces, including public circulation spaces. The most notable of these is the 11-story central atrium, which provides connection to all floors of the building.

This innovative use of daylighting and the modulation of light and privacy caught the attention of Showcase jurors, earning the project an Award of Merit. “Daylight figures in most project design, but here it’s expertly handled,” one judge noted.

The project team also focused on the patient journey by affording cancer patients a variety of experiences and settings during their visits. For example, the chemotherapy suite provides both internal and external treatment bays as well as private rooms, so patients have control of their environment. Nearby, plants growing up external stainless-steel cables provide a green wall for privacy while permitting views to the outdoors.

In many areas of the building, which opened in October 2013, the extensive glazing is accentuated by low sill heights, which allow for views of the urban setting from a seated position as well as from patient beds.

The judges also noted the project’s high level of finish and internal patterned surfaces, including the perforated ceiling in the waiting areas and atrium. The repeating pattern, both inside and outside, is based on Braille text meaning “life house.”

With a construction cost of $530 per square foot, Hicks says finishes were carefully selected and subjected to a stringent value management and cost controls process. Sustainable wood and veneers are combined with laminate finishes, and a standardized detailing of internal fittings was maximized for cost efficiency.       

“The concept was to provide a nonclinical image to all interior spaces,” Hicks says, “something that made patients feel like this was a special place where they were really thought about and cared for.”

Anne DiNardo is senior editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at


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