A new monograph, the XII of the Renzo Piano Foundation, illustrates the steps that the architect, Gino Strada and the teams have taken to build a sustainable hospital in Uganda, in Entebbe. Lia Piano, who edited the book, speaks

The Renzo Piano Foundation has presented a new volume, the twelfth to date, which is adds to the previous monographs created to tell the studio's projects in a transparent way.

This, however, is an even more special book. Emergency Children's Hospital. The Children's Hospital, Entebbe, Uganda illustrates the history of the Center of Excellence in Pediatric Surgery of EMERGENCY: an innovative and environmentally friendly hospital, the result of the friendship between Renzo Piano and Gino Strada to which the volume is dedicated.

118 unpublished drawings including 51 sketches by Renzo Piano, variants and details that will never be published elsewhere, 57 photos of the team at work and of the construction site in every phase, 33 photos of the finished building. A project born from a phone call in which Gino Strada said to Piano : “I want a shockingly beautiful hospital”. And what Lia Piano told INTERNI.

Lia Piano, is it scandalous to do something beautiful and ethical together?

These are the words that Gino Strada said to Renzo Piano in the phone call that he initiated the whole project: "I want a shockingly beautiful hospital". The scandal is against the common practice, which Gino had perfectly summarized: "If I have to make a chair for my house, I make it perfectly as a team with four legs and a nice seat. If, on the other hand, I have to do it for Africa, for many it is enough that we can be supported".

This project overturns the current approach, and brings the best of pediatric surgery, technologies and skills available today to Africa. Bring to Africa everything we would like to have here. Including beauty, which is not an aesthetic factor, but as it is now known impacts the psychological and physical aspect of patients. Beauty is part of the cure, not an accessory.

This project is the result of a great friendship, as well as collaboration. Two heads, two hearts and a common goal: there was no doubt that the result was excellent. Was it difficult?

It was challenging. A work that lasted years, and began long before the famous phone call between Gino and Renzo. Suffice it to say that it took 7 exploration trips to find the land , the first in 2010. Emergency worked for years to create the institutional and logistical conditions. It is a hospital that comes from far away, and owes its success to a large group. Not two, but many heads, and as many hearts. There are also happy infections: in this project, for example, excellence has been contagious. Everyone tried to do the best of their ability.

How is it a sustainable project? The first of its kind.

We have already talked about beauty and excellence. The third element is missing, without which the first two are not enough: sustainability. A choice of philosophy and method that looks above all to the future, when the management of the hospital will be left to the Ugandan government. So medical and health sustainability, because the hospital is also a place of qualified training for doctors and nurses, who will no longer be forced to leave the country (with the risk of never returning). Environmental sustainability, starting with the walls made with excavated earth from the site.

Energy sustainability, because the 2,500 photovoltaic panels cover 1/3 of the hospital's needs. And the same goes for any other resource. As Raul Pantaleo, who designed the hospital with RPBW, said: working in difficult conditions teaches a thrifty relationship with all resources.

How has 12 years of work been documented? How long did it take you to reorganize all the material?

These books are born from a very simple idea. It is rare for a monograph to truly and transparently tell the story of a building. Projects always seem to derive from straight and smooth paths, without a hitch, an afterthought, an error. Digging through the archives, looking carefully, I realized that this is never the case. Fortunately, I would add. I was also interested in telling the error. Which is part of every project, even the most successful.

But it is a long job: we publish one volume every year. You need to have the time to understand, to listen, in some cases, like this one, to go to the construction site in person, see the pisé (clay) walls built, attend the training of the staff who will take care of the maintenance of the building. See what is there, and above all what is not there yet, but it will be there.

Can you also consult the difficulties in the book?

Certain. Some steps are simplified, and I have instead focused on little known, or less intuitive passages. For example, I have documented all the research work done to find the perfect clay composition to make the pisé walls. The work carried out for years. Or second thoughts: like the idea, later abandoned, of making the wooden structure. In that area, termites would have literally eaten up the hospital. Which in fact was then made in metal carpentry.

What aspect did you like most to tell?

Each project has a different story, it is the fire born from a different spark. Here I was interested in the meeting between Gino Strada and Renzo Piano. The birth of a friendship between shy people, who observe each other for a long time before jumping into a common project. And I was interested in working on the edge. In this project we often had to find solutions that took into account very different factors: the availability of resources, the need for health protocols, ease of use and durability. This is what we in the office call the law of 'hard necessity'.

How important is it to share in this sector?

The Foundation we created almost twenty years ago now houses what we call the 'living' archive. I live because it is shared, also through the publication of monographs. There is no knowledge if it is not shared.

Gino Strada asked: "Will we be able to finish this hospital?". Was he able to see the finished work?

The hospital was opened in April 2021, the first patient crossed the threshold on April 15. Gino left us on August 13th. But of one thing I am convinced: Gino is still in that hospital, and will always be there.