Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Johannesburg, South Africa

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital is one of four dedicated children’s hospitals on the African continent, creating a much needed facility for children from South Africa and the Greater Southern Africa Development Community. The hospital is designed by Sheppard Robson International, John Cooper Architecture, GAPP and Ruben Reddy Architects. 

The hospital operates as an academic tertiary care referral facility, providing services in speciality care areas such as cardiothoracic, neuroscience, nephrology, endocrine, reconstructive and general paediatric surgery. 

  • Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund
29,900 m2
  • GIFA Awards - Winner


The story of what is now Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) goes back nearly to 2007. What was borne out of a simple request from the late Nelson Mandela to look at improving paediatric healthcare systems in Southern Africa, led to a global capital campaign to build this very hospital.

This was an opportunity to create a beacon for paediatric healthcare, with only four specialist facilities for children in the whole of Africa. Sheppard Robson and John Cooper Architecture (JCA) collaborated in 2009 to win an international design competition for the new hospital. The team drew together specialist design skills with local experience and expertise to go on and deliver the vision for the new hospital.


Design Process

The competition-winning design broke away from housing all departments in a single ‘box’ building, which often leads to deep floorplates where the patients and staff have little contact with the outside world. After extensive consultation, it was clear that long, institutional and windowless corridors should be avoided in favour of a plan that connected to its natural surroundings.

Sheppard Robson and JCA’s concept revolved around creating six wings, each with its own specialism. These were connected by a ‘street’ that ran through the centre of the project. This ‘street’ was vital for connectivity, with three main junctions that enable efficient flow of people. The separation of floors of floors avoided cross-overs and assisted wayfinding.

By breaking down the mass of the building into six elements, the design has a domestic, human scale that reassuring and familiar to children. Further moving away from a feeling of institutional design, each wing has subtle twists of the common design language to give it a distinct identity; for example, the colour of the solar shading walls – formed from horizontal rails – changes for each department, picking up on vibrant, local colours.

Design Process


The seven-year design process has created a close connection between nature and the healing process, with the architectural language of the project a beacon that shines out over the city from its prominent location.

The robust design promotes bold and contemporary architecture, which has been delivered by using the construction techniques familiar to a local work. The result is a project that - both inside and out - invites contemplation and calm.





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