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Designing Better Healthcare Buildings

Tuesday 22 Apr 2014

Designing Better Healthcare Buildings

Designing Better Healthcare Buildings by AHMM Architects
North London Hospice. All images: Tim Soar 
Designing Better Healthcare Buildings by AHMM Architects Designing Better Healthcare Buildings by AHMM Architects Designing Better Healthcare Buildings by AHMM Architects Designing Better Healthcare Buildings by AHMM Architects Designing Better Healthcare Buildings by AHMM Architects Designing Better Healthcare Buildings by AHMM Architects
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AHMM Director and WAN Judge Paul Monaghan on effective healthcare design 

Healthcare buildings, whether they are hospitals, health centres or hospices, are one of the most difficult building typologies to get right both in terms of function and aesthetic. It's also a great pity that it's one of the building types where architects are marginalised the most, usually in favour of the servicing and equipment requirements which are the most costly elements. A pity because it's the one building type where good design can make such an enormous difference to the user.

AHMM have been interested in this typology for the last 20 years, from a small health centre in Croydon, to Kentish Town Health Centre and last year’s WAN AWARDS Healthcare winner North London Hospice. In particular, we believe these buildings should not feel institutional but instead have an informal character.

So many new healthcare projects are ugly because quite often they have been designed from the inside out to a very functional brief with no consideration to their civic importance. At North London Hospice, the context and massing of the building were influenced by the surrounding suburban houses of the area. The pitched roofs, brick detailing and apparently random window pattern - although inspired by the context - were intentionally distorted in scale to emphasise the fact it is a public building.

Within our buildings, we have often used special views from within to connect the building with its surroundings, which often creates unusual compositions and framed views. We also like to create 'rooms' rather than generic spaces, and to carefully consider their decoration. We always employ a classic palette of timber, stone and brick combined with a good quality of natural lighting both from roof lights and windows. Getting through Inspection Control is a key factor in the selection of these materials and often needs extra negotiation to get seemingly simple materials through the Building Inspectors.

In particular on the ground floor we always ensure there is a strong connection with the landscape design. We always try to create a range of outdoor spaces, large and small, where groups or individuals can find some privacy and peace and quiet. Landscape is too often value engineered but in most of our projects it is one of the key components as it provides many benefits.

At North London Hospice, we also took great care in selecting good furniture for the building. The furniture available for elderly people is depressingly institutional, but we fortunately discovered that Kenneth Grange had designed a new chair especially for older people and we were able to use it for the first time. We mixed this with Eames furniture to create a pleasant, inviting setting in the public areas.

The WAN Healthcare Awards are important because they celebrate the best healthcare buildings around the world, and show that it is possible to deliver well-designed buildings within a set of very specific constraints and requirements.

Paul Monaghan 
Director at AHMM and WAN Judge

AHMM Architects

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