Africa's first LEED-certified hospital offers green-building lessons

Africa's first LEED-certified hospital offers green-building lessons

Photo courtesy of Perkins + Will

When Ghana commissioned a new hospital for its capital city Accra, the West African nation hoped to earn LEED certification, a prestigious rating of environmentally minded buildings.

But "they believed there was very little hope for us to achieve it," said Pat Bosch, design director of Perkins + Will's Miami office and the project's lead architect.

Much of the infrastructure that supports green building in the U.S. and Canada, where LEED is most common, doesn't exist in Ghana, reports the website Co.Design. But by rethinking the parameters of what a building should be, the architects were able to complete Africa's first LEED for Health Care–certified hospital.

"You can achieve so much more in terms of energy-efficient, smart buildings by simply doing the right things," Bosch said. "You don’t have to over-cool, you don’t have to over-light—there are ways of being more responsive to the environment. In the West, we're obsessed with creating these closed boxes."

Accra is a fast-growing, rapidly modernizing city.

"Ghana and its Ministry of Health are a very visionary entity, and they have been progressing quickly in infrastructure," Bosch said. "They believe they need to build smart, resilient infrastructure and are addressing a lot of their challenges using the framework of sustainability as a platform. They want to be on the forefront of the continent in terms of sustainable building . . . LEED is a certification and it is a validation."

Still, Accra is a developing city with significant infrastructural and resource challenges. Electricity is unreliable. In 2014, when the hospital project began, the city experienced blackouts 159 days of the year. The country is experiencing a drought and water is in short supply.

Service interruptions are also routine. Moreover, the construction industry isn't as well versed in the building and maintenance practices that are common in the West. These conditions didn't support the installation of technically advanced mechanisms and materials.

And even if the builders imported the materials commonly specified in LEED-certified buildings in the West, such a move wouldn't be wise long-term.

"It’s difficult to do LEED for Health Care,” Bosch said. “Usually, it's achieved when you use technology like smart shading. Here we were working with brick-and-mortar construction and infrastructure that was unreliable . . . It would’ve been irresponsible to bring a lot of tech they couldn’t maintain or operate successfully."

The big question remained: Was it worth pursuing LEED in a non-Western setting? Bosch said yes, but with conditions that ought to be thought of in the West, too.

"I think LEED is a great platform to start with and frame projects, but it should not be the only qualifier," she said. "Do what is smart, what is efficient and do not do certification the way some other people do, which is 'buying' points (through unnecessary design details)."

To Bosch, the real lesson in applying LEED to the hospital in Accra is more about what the West can learn. "What is wonderful in working on these projects is the benefit of bringing ideas to projects in the West," she said. "We’re able to prove that sustainability is doable and it doesn’t take high-tech solutions. Simplification yields a lot more results."

Topics: Architectural Firms, Building Owners and Managers, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Engineering Firms, Healthcare - Hospitals & Medical Facilities, Sustainable Communities, Urban Planning and Design

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