John Weeks

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John Weeks, architect: born London 5 March 1921; architect in partnership with Richard Llewelyn Davies (created 1963 Baron Llewelyn-Davies, died 1981) 1960-81; Senior Lecturer, University College London 1961-72; chairman, Llewelyn-Davies Weeks 1981-86, consultant 1986-91; CBE 1986; married 1955 Barbara Nunn (one son, one daughter); died London 19 June 2005.

Architects for Health records, with great regret, the passing of John Weeks, who died recently, having had a huge influence on all those of us who strive to understand better the craft of hospital design.

At the Nuffield Division for Hospital Studies, which published its findings in 1954, he was involved in the very early stages of the ‘industrialisation’ of a number of hospital activities such as central sterile supply services, and took the lead in measuring things, in order to provide design data for future projects. Good examples of this are his work on the multi-functional potential of combined inter-connecting examination and consulting rooms and how the work of nurses can be modified in the interests of improved patient care.

These lessons were embodied in a number of ‘live’ projects. Later, in practice with Richard Llewelyn Davies, John worked on a number of projects for the NHS such as York District General Hospital and perhaps most significantly Northwick Park Hospital and Research Centre. This last embodying design principles gained from his continuous search for an ‘indeterminate architecture’.

Among many, memories are still strong of sitting spellbound while the Master developed his theoretical work or unveiled plans for both beautiful and practical projects that have emerged as a result of co-operation with Powell and Moya.

With John Weeks, it was not only what he said, but how he said it; quiet, composed, witty, very clever and always amusing.

Ray Moss

Proponent of flexible hospital design

The Independent, 30 June 2005

John Weeks, architect: born London 5 March 1921; architect in partnership with Richard Llewelyn Davies (created 1963 Baron Llewelyn-Davies, died 1981) 1960-81; Senior Lecturer, University College London 1961-72; chairman, Llewelyn-Davies Weeks 1981-86, consultant 1986-91; CBE 1986; married 1955 Barbara Nunn (one son, one daughter); died London 19 June 2005.

John Weeks brought an intellectual rigour to the design of hospitals, an exercise that brought together prefabrication, repetition and town planning to create miniature cities – indeed all of his experience as an architect and founder partner of the firm Llewelyn Davies and Weeks.

Weeks determined to become an architect at 14. His grandfather was a mason, and he had a copy of Architectural Review from October 1933, featuring the Royal Masonic Hospital. It is still in Weeks’s office. After education at Dulwich College he entered the Architectural Association in 1938. Military service interrupted his training, with three years in the Royal Navy, but the early years of the Second World War were a wonderful time for the AA. The small but exceptionally gifted group of students were evacuated to Monken Hadley, north of London, where Weeks shared a house with, amongst others, Philip and Geoffry Powell, Hidalgo and Jeannie Moya, all architects who were to have distinguished careers rebuilding Britain after the war. Its real name was the Homewood, but Weeks and others christened it “Taliesin” after Frank Lloyd Wright’s home.

Reading the Architectural Review, Weeks particularly admired a house at Ferriby, in Yorkshire, by Leslie Martin. On demobilisation he phoned Martin, then Deputy Architect to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, for a job – and Martin was sufficiently intrigued to offer one. The LMS was the largest of the pre-nationalisation railway companies and had initiated a coherent design policy in the war, including prefabricated steel stations for its smaller halts. The prototype still stands at West Hampstead; the others, including Stonebridge Park designed by Weeks, have gone.

For Weeks the 1940s were “all thinking science and rationalisation”, which suited his talents, and the commuting introduced him to another architect, Richard Llewelyn Davies, later Lord Llewelyn-Davies. They left British Rail together to work on modular design for Hills, the principal manufacturer of prefabricated schools, seen in the 1940s as the answer to shortages. Then, in 1950, Weeks followed Llewelyn Davies to the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, which was assembling a multi-disciplinary team including architects, statisticians and a nurse, to design a general hospital from first principles.

As part of their study the Nuffield team designed two experimental ward units, a twin operating theatre suite and a health centre at Corby. Partly because of their design – they were cool, geometrically disciplined buildings – but, mainly because they were based on well-researched regimes, the buildings received wide acceptance by the medical and nursing professions. Their report, published in 1955, became the reference point for the first larger building programmes of the NHS, notably hospitals by Powell and Moya at Swindon and Wexham Park. Llewelyn Davies and Weeks acted as consultants, having formed a partnership in 1960. Meanwhile Weeks had designed a new estate village for Lord Rothschild at Rushbrooke, Suffolk, based on primitive farm buildings seen on Italian holidays: a cluster of single-storey brick houses linked by sheltering walls and with attic storage areas under big monopitched roofs. The black and white shapes were likened to the Friesians in the adjoining field.

Finally, Weeks built his own hospital, at Northwick Park, Harrow, combined with a clinical research centre. He devised the overall form of the hospital in a week in April 1962 while in bed with flu. He had been rationalising his thoughts on hospital design as “duffel-coat” planning, a large, architecturally expressionless mantle of a building that was serviced and flexible. But in January 1962 this evolved into “indeterminate architecture”. Provided that the design of the entrance and principal routes was clear and logical, and each building could readily expand its services, then any adaptation, extension or rebuilding could be undertaken without disturbing the rest.

It was a model for flexibility within a logical plan. Hospital planning resembled that for a town, and Weeks was also involved with the planning of Washington New Town, whose importance as a forbear of Milton Keynes is undervalued. Weeks devised the roads at Washington as all equal, with neighbourhoods for some 4,500 people set in the half-mile squares between them.

Weeks was involved in the design of York District Hospital, but increasingly his expertise was in demand as an adviser abroad. He worked extensively in Iceland, Belgium, Australia, Singapore, the United States and Canada, producing development plans as the basis of buildings by local architects. He recorded 20 long-haul trips in 1969 alone. His intensive research produced few built works, but his hand can be seen in the University Children’s Hospital at Leuven (1972-75), the Medical Centre at Flinders University, Adelaide (1974), and Westmead Hospital, Sydney (1975-77). Weeks had taught at the Bartlett School of Architecture throughout the 1960s and, following Llewelyn Davies’s death in 1981, he carried on lecturing on hospitals around the world.

John Weeks combined his scientific approach to architecture with a love of art and music, relating his work on indeterminacy to that of John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s ballet. He worked extensively with artists, particularly with Kenneth and Mary Martin, notably in 1956 at the “This is Tomorrow” exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery and with Mary at the Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast. He was a graceful, twinkly figure with a gentle, warm humour, who was still corresponding with students and giving lectures until last year.

Elain Harwood

John Weeks: Press Release issued by Llewelyn-Davies Weeks

John Weeks, one of the founding partners of Llewelyn-Davies Weeks, died on June 19th at the age of 84. He is widely recognised as having set the agenda for the design of the modern hospital.

John Weeks and Richard Llewelyn-Davies began to work together in 1959, having been colleagues at the Nuffield Hospitals Trust for the previous nine years. Their collaboration formed the nucleus of the practice now known as Llewelyn Davies Yeang.

A prolific author of research papers on hospital design, John introduced the idea of “geography” rather than a “design” generating a hospital form, made the “Village Analogy” for the first time and coined the word “street” to describe the central hospital corridor.

John’s most influential paper, “Indeterminate architecture”, published in 1965, set out his ideas of a hospital, which was intended to be self designing, and where no aesthetic judgement would be allowed to constrain internal function or processes. Concepts of ultimate flexibility, long-life loose fit, ‘duffle-coat’ architecture, ‘endless’ architecture, etc., informed the vocabulary of a generation of architects far beyond the realms of hospital design. This thinking was influenced by John’s interest in the avant garde musician, John Cage, who was experimenting with concepts of chance in his musical compositions.

The paper became the basis for the invention of a class of hospitals that were designed to be extended and adaptable with little formal architecture. His basic design agenda was adopted by architects worldwide and his papers used as the basis of design teaching as applied to modern hospitals.

In 1961 the practice received its most important commission, Northwick Park Hospital in northwest London, which was both a hospital and research institute. It was the most significant hospital commission of its time.

John will be remembered as one of the most intelligent, charming and likeable people of his generation, whose core principles profoundly changed the way architects think about design.


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