Perspectives 12.13.2019

Against All Odds: How a Multi-Cultural Team from Opposite Ends of the World United to Create China’s Newest Healthcare Paragon

Bird's Eye View

“It’s Mission Impossible!”

Gong Zheng can’t recall how many times he and the team said this about Hangzhou China Resources International Medical Center—an ambitious new health district located in the capital of China’s Zhejiang province.

In only nine months, the 3.1-million-square-foot (285,300 square-meter) “intelligent healthcare town” moved from concept to groundbreaking. When complete in 2022, it will provide 800 acute care beds, a research tower, 143 beds in a rehabilitation center, a health management center, and even residential apartments. An outdoor park with footpaths along the river will connect patients of the hospital to the waterfront, too—a design element of particular importance in local Liangzhu culture.

The project’s groundbreaking represents the first phase of an even larger wellness-focused development along the city’s historic Grand Canal that promotes preventative healthy living. Despite its sheer size, scope, and complexity—not to mention its accelerated timeline—what was once thought to be a “mission impossible” is well on its way to becoming a “mission complete.” And it’s all thanks to a dedicated team of design, planning, technical, and medical professionals who have found a way to successfully collaborate with each other from opposite sides of the world.

The medical center is being developed by China Resources Land (CR Land) and China Resources Healthcare (CR Healthcare) in consultation with Brigham Health International (BHI), Spaulding International (SI), and medical consulting group Partners HealthCare International (PHI). The Zhejiang Provincial People’s Hospital (ZPPH) will initially operate the new facility, and provided valuable input on local clinical practices. Working with the CR Land/Health, the BHI/SI/PHI team, and the clinicians from the ZPPH, Perkins&Will developed the site master plan for the larger development as well as the medical planning concepts and architectural design for the new hospital and ancillary buildings.

“I feel like a high-speed highway interchange,” Zheng says of the unique role he plays in facilitating teamwork across enormously diverse stakeholder groups. “I’m connecting a Chinese client from two groups with international medical clients from three other groups; consulting on two distinct design styles (Chinese and American); shepherding a design team from three Perkins&Will studios (Shanghai, Chicago, Los Angeles); and coordinating with dozens of other consultants in areas like mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural engineering, and transportation.”

Indeed, for the Hangzhou China Resources International Medical Center, Zheng is the chief point of contact for everyone involved—particularly the project’s three design teams: one in Chicago led by principal Bill Doerge; one in Shanghai led by associate principal Runchao Xu; and one in Los Angeles led by principal Jean Mah, who played a key role in overseeing the project’s overall medical planning. A project manager based in the Perkins&Will Shanghai studio, Zheng routinely earns the accolades of clients and colleagues for his extraordinary ability to remain cool, calm, and collected under pressure and in challenging circumstances.

“This is definitely the most challenging project I have ever encountered—and Gong handles it like a consummate professional,” says Zheng’s colleague Runchao Xu, who has many years of experience in healthcare design. “We’ve had to incorporate all the requirements of China’s domestic ‘Class III Grade A’ hospitals—a complex undertaking in and of itself—while also meeting the criteria of an international academic medical center. It’s unlike any other medical project I’ve ever worked on.”

Bill Doerge agrees, noting that some of the challenge faced by the project team came from differing perspectives on processes, operations, and staffing—all of which are influenced by local cultures, customs, and traditions.

“It took great patience and wisdom to balance all the requests from various stakeholders. In specific circumstances, the team was often ‘forced’ to be the hard decision-maker because the program and planning challenges were new to the client. But, in the end, they trusted our experience and expertise.”  

What unites the diverse team members is an overarching commitment to keeping people healthy, treating illness and injury, saving lives, promoting disease prevention along with healthy lifestyles, and improving and extending the quality of people’s lives. Designing a facility that incorporates the best practices of both cultures and traditions requires a nuanced balancing act, Doerge adds—as well as a willingness to listen, understand, and adapt.

“Public hospitals in China need to adapt to be successful in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. I’m confident that Perkins&Will and China Resources are creating a pioneering hospital in Hangzhou.”

The project is remarkable in many ways, including the following:

  1. Speed to market. The team finished the medical planning and architecture design development of over 3 million square feet in just nine months.
  2. Number of workshops and meetings. The team convened five international workshops attended by all parties, and dozens of meetings of various scales.
  3. Cultural cohesion. The final design was the result of a seamless melding of input by medical experts from both China and the U.S., each representing a different medical practice, lifestyle, and cultural heritage.
  4. Number of stakeholders. With multiple client groups, three Perkins&Will studios, and several consultants, the project requires input from an extraordinary number of diverse individuals.

“We’ve mobilized the most skilled technical team in healthcare, working across time zones and geographies to make this project a resounding success,” says James Lu, managing director of the Shanghai studio of Perkins&Will. “Gong Zheng’s calming energy, Bill Doerge’s optimism, and Runchao Xu’s passion—together with the broader team’s expertise and perseverance—have created a new kind of hospital for a new generation. Mission absolutely possible!”