New Cancer Centre at Barts Hospital

A joint visit by Architects for Health and London Arts in Health Forum to the New Cancer Centre at Barts Hospital, Tues 21 September 2004

Report on the visit by Peter Scher:

Architects for Health joined with the London Arts in Health Forum for a presentation and visit to the just-completed Cancer Care Centre. Roger Tuke, the Project manager, Nigel Greenhill, architect (Greenhill Jenner) and Moira Sinclair, the arts co-ordinator (Vital Arts), each gave brief and clear reports of the project. The members of both groups mixed well and freely to roam about the building, exploring an impressive demonstration of the successful integration of patient-focused arts and architecture.

The West Wing is one of the three remaining blocks that formed the square courtyard, all designed by the architect James Gibb for the rebuilding of the medieval hospital in 1730-1768. Originally the symmetrical three-storey building (with an attic for staff) had wards on each side of the central entrance hall and stairway. The back-to-back pairs of 14-bed wards were divided by a substantial, loadbearing spine wall which featured a central fireplace and chimney breast. After a preliminary exercise in exploring the drastically altered and long neglected, but Grade I listed, fabric, and following extensive consultations with experts, conservation and planning bodies, the project team were enabled to clean and restore the exterior and reconfigure and refurbish the interior as the new Cancer Care Centre.

The accommodation brings together the Noth East London Area Breast Screening Directorate and Bart’s symptomatic breast cancer diagnostic outpatients clinic. The well-conceived result combines consultation, diagnosis and the all-important patient support services in an integrated facility.

Although the given volume of the West Wing appears ample the fixed structural shell presented severe constraints on the layouts. The architects have planned this conversion very successfully. They have responded sympathetically to Gibb’s heavy classical style and have obtained a high quality interior. From the moment one steps inside one appreciates this experience of first class quality and distinction in the materials, finishes and detailing. And, equally importantly, this high quality is maintained in the equipment, furniture and furnishings and in the excellent visual art works. In most of the non-clinical areas there are murals, large works and many quite small intimate pieces made by artists in sensitive collaboration with the users and the design team.

It is hardly surprising that this project was financed by a charitable appeal and implemented using sane professional procurement. The procedures of NHS plc do not yet achieve this standard of planning, consultation and comprehensive teamwork. Nevertheless the new Cancer Care Centre at Barts is a facility of which the NHS can be proud. If its inception and delivery is any guide the services it will provide to highly vulnerable patients will surely be of the highest quality. The Centre opened very recently, it is not fully equipped and it is as yet unmarked by use; and plans for the art project are ongoing with more works to come. The event was held in the evening so those attending could not experience the interiors where daylight enters but all agreed that the joint event was invaluable and really well-organised.

Peter Scher, September 2004

An Architects for Health Event – 21 September 2004

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