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David Powell Development Director at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust can rightly be regarded as one of a very exclusive group within the NHS considering the total NHS workforce of 1.4m staff, David is doubtless one of handful – an expert client lead with a string of successful projects in his portfolio.

Architects for Health were delighted to welcome David Powell as guest speaker at the post-AGM presentation in February 2016. His experience and wisdom garnered over many years has most recently been applied to managing the design and construction of the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool – badged as the world’s first living hospital.

David began by reminding us of his earlier involvement in major projects and took us back to a time when stereotypical roles were the norm for members of the project team – contractors were viewed by clients as cowboys and architects viewed by everyone as airy-fairy luvvies. That mould, he explained, was broken on his first significant job – the ACAD development at Central Middlesex Hospital.

The stand-out features of this scheme for David were the early input by Avanti combined with a passionate and infectious determination to achieve excellence – along with some personal passions for example, that public toilets should be well designed and finished. David acknowledged that the Trust’s construction requirements were too light at that time.

David moved on to manage major developments at Southmead Hospital in Bristol where, again, he recalled the significance of early input from an expert architect – Ken Schwartz – to unpick the brief with members of the team and devise simpler approaches including a ‘kit of parts’ approach, reducing room types across a very large scheme. This methodology then extended into consistent detailing and far tighter client requirements. Another of David’s pet dislikes – lay-in grid ceilings – was excluded from the project.

One of the most valuable aspects of initial work was a series of 33 visits to completed schemes across the country – logistically complex but benefitting the scheme hugely by exploring experiences good and bad from colleagues who had been through similar processes.

The importance of wide-ranging stakeholder involvement – including patients – together with a significant amount of detailed work before the PFI competition were notably valuable to a successful construction stage and completed schemes.

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool is David’s latest project – a 65,000m2 development, had been 5 years in gestation when he joined the Trust. David’s experience and conversations across the organisation opened up ideas and enthusiasm which had been latent as the years had ticked by. Again, David invited an expert architect, Jim Chapman, to work with him to explore ideas and advise the in-house team.

Nick in Imaging had some ‘brilliant ideas’ – which were eventually realised – and the rejuvenation of consultations with children produced inspiring ideas and drawings.
One key anchor for the new scheme was that it should be in – and part of – the parkland setting. From that starting point, the story of a living hospital grew. As well as being the hospital site (19ha), the park is part of the local area and masterplan recognises and reinforces how each part interacts and supports each other.

Specific elements – such as the tree house in the foyer and the green roof extend ideas: playdecks at upper levels overlook the park.

The hospital internally is planned around a main hall from which front doors to all key departments lead, eliminating hospital street principles. 75% of patient rooms are single bedded and interior design is colourful and elegant. The PFI architects – BDP – themselves develop innovative ideas including fully glazed walls to all single rooms with very large sliding doors, a concept which required expertise from the aerospace industry to make them work successfully.

Beyond the expected, Alder Hey – under David’s guidance – has moved into unexplored territory for healthcare. Innovation it seems is the norm. A partnership with BT in new IT systems has generated many opportunities and a later scheme by Hopkins Associates incorporates an Invention Hub – including a core space which has been nicknamed The Bat Cave.

Nick from imaging has developed applications which explore entertainment as medicine. The building has systems which recognise children individually and interactive gaming technology rewards children as players using a points system.

Clinical systems talk to the BMS. A sensor method has been trialled for non-invasive blood testing – early analysis is promising and the approach is being refined to give more comprehensive results.

In November 2015, Alder Hey – in conjunction with MIT – ran a “Hackathon” event, with the strapline ‘Hacking Children’s Health’. Over two days, up to 200 participants from different professions were asked to solve (or hack) problems. Challenges were pitched by clinicians, healthcare professionals, patients and parents and participants formed teams to find a solution to one of these challenges. The teams then pitched their solutions to a panel of judges, and were marked on commercial viability. The initiative was hugely successful and has now been adopted by IBM.

Alder Hey now features in the London Kidzania – an entertainment and educational centre in Westfield in West London: the hospital component of the centre is badged as Alder Hey and the Trust gave advice to ensure the accuracy of ‘the hospital’ as an experience, both in design and as in interactive role play.

Asked in the Q+A session to distil his experiences in three significant points, David said:

  • Before you start – go and see what else there is ‘out there’ by visiting other schemes, and as many as you can
  • Developing a standard ‘kit of parts’ has helped simplify the design and construction process, also making life simpler for maintenance
  • Find people you can trust as advisors

Paul Murphy, Secretary of Architects for Health spoke for all present in thanking David warmly for an inspiring presentation and insight into his gentle and clearly driven approach to making excellent healthcare buildings.

David is arguably one of a kind – if we could clone him and instil his insight and inspiration in all Trusts, the NHS would be the better for it by far.

To view the presentation of the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital please visit:


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