Opportunities sometimes arrive in unexpected ways in times of crises and challenge the norm of healthcare environments.

The healthcare system was strained by shortages of equipment, skilled healthcare workers and adequate financial capacity to provide and maintain the infrastructure necessary to cope with our country’s everyday healthcare needs, let alone a pandemic.


  • Limited available capacity for the pandemic in State healthcare facilities in the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Area
  • Whilst the Livingstone Hospital A&E Unit basement was being converted to an overflow trauma field hospital for 80 patients, and a further 100 beds were being reactivated at Livingstone Hospital, this was insufficient capacity for the anticipated influx of patients.

Volkswagen South Africa approached b4 Architects and Studio d’Arc, two firms based in Port Elizabeth with healthcare experience to convert a Volkswagen facility to a COVID 19 hospital. The project was funded with donor funding from the GIZ (German government) for Covid-19 facilities and upgrading of laboratory facilities.

Two sites were considered

  • Volkswagen’s Sports Pavilion (modern but too small).
  • The recently vacated Neave Factory.

Some key design principles:

  • Prior to Covid-19, the building was for sale and converted into a temporary facility.
  • The German government and Volkswagen South Africa funded the conversion so everything must be accounted for.
  • Long-term legacy, so expenditure is not wasteful.
  • Repurpose and re-use of materials already in the factory.
  • Can house potentially large patient numbers.
  • Patient-to-staff ratio high: Adequate help for patients.
  • No children (safety and Volkswagen corporate policies on premises).
  • VW manufactured ventilators, respirators and masks in partnership with other local businesses.
  • Low-cost timber boards for observation areas (phase 1 was about 1 500 beds).
  • Low-division walls around ward areas to maximise visibility and control of patients.
  • Approximately 800 patients can be oxygenated, with a five-bed high care and 30-bed admissions area, high-flow.
  • The facility was converted in only seven weeks.

Top Tips

  • The volume of the massive building and the draught helped with natural air changes
  • Re-purpose and re-use: many of the steel structures in the decommissioned VW parts factory were used, and old equipment and furniture was repurposed
  • Usage of decommissioned buildings for other purposes
  • Utilising locally available materials in stock and designing for minimal wastage and quick implementation

With the conversion of this old factory into a temporary 66 000 square metre Covid-19 hospital in a mere 7 weeks, and being able to house 3300 patients, it shows what can be done in case of emergency with a collaboration by all.

For more information, contact b4 Architects:
Tel: +21 41 581 1217
Website: https://b4arch.co.za

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