New hospital a living tribute to South African heart pioneer, Christiaan Barnard

Art installation and other exhibits reflect spirit of his and other medical pioneers’ remarkable endeavours

Friday, November 25 2016

On 3 December 2016, the 49th anniversary of the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant, Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital will embark on a new phase in its history as it officially launches a new state-of-the-art purpose-built facility situated on the Cape Town foreshore.

“Professor Christiaan Barnard achieved in medical history the equivalent of man’s first landing on the moon,” says Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of Netcare.

“In the history of medicine and surgery, the first heart transplant, which has since become a commonplace procedure, will always be recognised as one of the seminal pioneering surgical innovations of all time.”

Speaking at a media briefing ahead of the opening of the new Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, Friedland said the new purpose built hospital is intended to be a living tribute, not only to the late Professor Barnard, but also to other pioneers of important medical innovations in South Africa, as well as to acknowledge the hope offered by modern medicine to patients the world over.

“The development of the new Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital represented the ideal opportunity to celebrate Professor Barnard’s incredible medical feat while recognising the very painful backdrop of the shameful and exclusionary apartheid system at the time of his achievement,” he noted.

According to Friedland, given the prominent landmark position of the hospital on the Cape Town foreshore, close to the ICCC and highly visible from the highway, the development presented a unique opportunity to contribute to this iconic urban landscape. “We saw this as an interesting challenge to perpetuate the legacy of Professor Barnard in a modern and highly specialised multi-disciplinary hospital dedicated to optimising the treatment and care of patients,” Friedland explains.

Netcare approached acclaimed artist, Marco Cianfanelli and the late Jeremy Rose, who will always be remembered as the architect behind some of South Africa’s most famous museums, heritage and public art projects. Their brief was to create a world-class legacy project with an international, timeless quality, which enhanced the overall look and feel of the hospital without compromising its functionality.  The position and height of the hospital, its view of the city, mountains and harbour, had to be taken into account while optimising the abundance of natural light to improve patients’ wellbeing and overall hospital experience.

Friedland stated that Professor Barnard’s legacy of excellence and innovation in South African medicine lives on at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, where world-class specialists continue to achieve ‘firsts’ in medical advancements supported by cutting-edge medical technology to optimise clinical outcomes for patients.

“The rich legacy of Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital and its historical place in the world of medicine includes, among others, robotic cardiac procedures for the treatment of heart arrhythmia, da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery used for the treatment of prostate, bladder and kidney cancers, as well as the HeartWare ventricular assist device (HVAD) and Berlin Heart device that are implanted to help restore circulatory function in patients with severely compromised heart function, who are awaiting heart transplantation,” he added.

Friedland said: “We were not seeking to create a museum, as that already exists at Groote Schuur, but rather a subtle, sophisticated and nuanced recognition of the first heart transplant and other medical innovations, whilst acknowledging the irony that this global clinical milestone occurred in the context of a backward and exclusionary political system.
“In understanding the wider context of apartheid and the times of the 1960s, the exhibition speaks to human potential, determination and hope in the face of injustice and perceived impossibility.”

“We had to, at all times, take cognisance that a hospital is a place of healing and care, as well as being an environment that may evoke feelings of vulnerability and anxiety in patients and their loved ones. Broader themes of compassion, care, and the importance of treating people with dignity and respect, are illustrated through graphics, quotations and exhibits throughout the hospital.
One of the most captivating works of art on display in the hospital is Marco Cianfanelli’s sculpture, Threshold, which is suspended from the roof in the foyer. This imposing work of art captures the moment that Louis Washkansky’s heart was removed and Professor Barnard stared into an empty, living human chest cavity. Barnard saw potential, hope, faith and perseverance. He later recalled, “At that moment, the full impact of what I was doing hit me”.

It was this notion that inspired Marco Cianfanelli's sculpture - an archway, the threshold where the arrangement of linear profiles represent the incremental expansion of the moment in time where the impossible suddenly becomes possible.

“The sculpture pays homage to the physicians whose dedication to the care of their patients has seen the invention and implementation of technologies that allow for lifesaving procedures to be performed, and recovery to be intently monitored and analysed,” says Cianfanelli. “The gentle ripples in the plywood structure also suggest the waning of one source of energy, and simultaneously the latent potential of another. Ultimately, the sculpture expresses hope, the potential for recovery, and the systems of support that allow for healing to occur.”

The hospital carries this theme further with a series of exhibits within the central core of the building. The exhibits are on the sea-facing and mountain-facing windows of the lift lobbies from the ninth to the sixteenth floors, with each floor carrying a variation on the central theme. The design also incorporates glass cabinets with original artefacts on display.

“Professor Christiaan Barnard achieved international fame for expanding the boundaries of medicine. He was not only committed to furthering medical science, he was also deeply committed to patient care. With the exhibition Netcare honours Barnard the man, and pays tribute to the principles he stood for: science in service of humanity, and patient care in service of the individual.”

While commemorating Professor Barnard, the displays in the hospital recognise other notable medical practitioners and healthcare innovations. “The exhibition is also for all the unsung champions of the healthcare profession. Those who dedicate their lives to these principles; serving the health and wellbeing of the individual to make our world a better place,” explains Friedland.

Keeping to Netcare's commitment to the Barnard family in honouring the achievements of Professor Barnard, prescribes that the exhibits describe the enormous significance of what he achieved, the role that his team played in his success, but also very importantly give an account of, and acknowledge, the damaging and negative socio-political context in which they practiced.

The artwork and displays should inspire in patients and visitors, a sense of confidence that they are being attended to by medical practitioners whose practice is rooted in a legacy of excellence.
“State-of-the-art, contemporary and optimally functional, Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital represents a unique opportunity to honour Netcare’s commitment to commemorate the extraordinary achievement that was the world's first human heart transplant, and the man who pioneered this ground-breaking technique. The dedicated and trusted team of professionals who supported him, some of whom continue their practice to this day, are an integral part of this history, and many superb insights come from their recollections of the event,” says Friedland.

The complexity of perpetuating Barnard’s legacy in a state-of-the-art designed, multi-disciplinary hospital requires that the exhibition spaces are contemporary in their aesthetic, and are harmoniously integrated into the working spaces of the hospital.

“It was Netcare’s vision to develop a world-class healthcare facility that reflects the excellence, innovation and sanctity of life that is synonymous with the legacy of the hospital’s namesake. It is our desire that the medical endeavours, pioneering spirit and dedicated focus on patient care for which Professor Barnard is remembered will be carried forward within the walls of the brand new Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital,” Friedland concludes.


Issued by:    MNA on behalf of Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Pieter Rossouw
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:,, or

•    More about the artist

Marco Cianfanelli was born in Johannesburg in 1970 and graduated with a distinction in Fine Art from the University of the Witwatersrand. He has won numerous awards, including the ABSA L’Atelier and Ampersand Fellowship. Cianfanelli is renowned for his bold public art pieces and large sculptural works.

He was a member of the design team for Freedom Park, South Africa’s national monument to freedom, and his fragmented portrait sculpture, Release, forms the centrepiece of the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in KwaZulu-Natal. Cianfanelli’s large-scale public works can be seen in South Africa, the Middle East and the United States. His artworks can be found in public and private collections across the world, including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.